It was a case of experience meeting inexperience. In game one of their best-of-five Stanley Cup Qualifiers series, the Carolina Hurricanes defeated the New York Rangers by a score of 3-2. Early on, the game was entirely tilted in Carolina’s favor while the Rangers began to find their legs but albeit a little too late. The Rangers were also on the receiving end of some really bad bounces this game. Let’s jump in.
Early on in period one it was very clear which team had been to the Eastern Conference Final last season and which one did not make the playoffs. Even with their retooled roster that includes a much improved top-six forward corps, the Rangers were on their heels early and Brady Skjei making a questionable hit on Jesper Fast that knocked him out of the game didn’t make it any easier. It seemed no matter what they did they could not find any way to penetrate the neutral zone and sustain any type of forecheck or attack. The loss of Fast hurt the team due to his drive to always get to those dirty areas and how hard he works on the penalty kill.
With a team as inexperienced in the playoffs as the current iteration of the Rangers are, it was important for them to get a great start and it just didn’t happen. Jaccob Slavin scored what felt like a backbreaker just 1:01 into the game and immediately the team that needed to find their footing quicker was playing from behind. The Hurricanes jumped at the chance when Slavin was somehow left wide open to put one past Henrik Lundqvist. Fast was taken out of the game shortly after and did not return. Slavin was Fast’s man on that play and due to him being hurt wasn’t able to defend him like he normally would be able to. The Rangers were not looking good early and only managed four shots on goal in the first period. The Hurricanes were rolling.
Before we get to the second period, it’s important to note that Henrik Lundqvist was not expected to start this game. After the game, Rangers personnel confirmed that Igor Shesterkin was supposed to start before being determined as “Unfit to Play.” As good as Lundqvist is, Shesterkin was severely missed due to his puck handling skills and when you’re playing a team like attacks hard and fast like Carolina, that would be great to sort of counteract them. Shesterkin is the Rangers young phenom in goal and he is currently listed as day-to-day with a chance to take back his crease on Monday for Game 2.
Onto the second and there was a lot more of the same. Hurricanes jumping all over the Rangers and giving them as little space as possible. The Hurricanes would score a second time when Sebastian Aho would put one past Lundqvist making the game 2-0. It felt as if today was not the Rangers day but they provided a spark of hope when Mika ZIbanejad deflected a Ryan Lindgren shot past Petr Mrazek to cut the lead to 2-1. The second period would continue on with no more scoring but the Hurricanes still looked like the better team with their suffocating defense.
With the third period came an absolute back breaker. A Martin Necas shot would bounce right off Marc Staal’s skate and through Lundqvist’s five hole for a two goal lead making the game 3-1. Even with Marc Staal scoring late in the 3rd, it wouldn’t be enough and the Rangers would fall 3-2 in Game One. Now let;s focus on some bright spots and some dark spots.
For the Rangers, Kaapo Kakko, Julien Gauthier, Filip Chytil and Brenden Smith (yes, you read that right, Brenden Smith) were the best players all afternoon. Kakko looked like a man possessed and looked like the player the Rangers expected when they chose him with the second overall pick in the 2019 draft. Gauthier used his size and speed to make some nice plays and Filip Chytil did the same. The young kids were beginning to learn what it takes to succeed in the playoffs. Smith played some great defense even if he was a little overly physical in same aspects.
For the Hurricanes, just the suffocating defense worked really well in their favor. They neutralized the Rangers superstar forwards and gave them almost no room to work with. The Hurricanes penalty kill also gets some love here as they killed seven penalties and never really let the Rangers set up giving them fits. If the Hurricanes keep this up, it’ll be a short series.
The bad well… the veterans on the Rangers did not play well and seemed to forget how to get into the offensive zone at some points. Panarin, Buchnevich (who actually had a solid game), Kreider and Strome just couldn’t find their games today and if they don’t soon the Rangers are in trouble. Tony DeAngelo also seemed to forget exactly how to play defense and how to run a power play. DeAngelo is playing for a new contract and if he has a few more stinkers like today he can look to another team. DeAngelo even held the puck behind his own net for almost half a minute with the Rangers down by one with barely any time yet. Seemed like he was killing time for the Hurricanes. Not a good day from the vets and Tony D.
Petr Mrazek makes my bad list for the Hurricanes. “But why he was the winning goalie!!?!?!” Yes but Mrazek just isn’t that good and the way the Rangers scored showed that he really isn’t up to the task and his rebound control you could see just wasn’t all there. If the Rangers can just you know… shoot more than this series changes. That defense of the Hurricanes protects Mrazek heavily for a reason and it’s plain to see why.
Game 2 is Monday at noon and the Rangers needs to bring their A game this one will be over fast.
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