AP Photo credit Carolina Hurricanes via Getty Images
In what technically was their first postseason game for many younger Blueshirts, they learned a valuable lesson. In Saturday’s 3-2 defeat to a determined Hurricanes in Game One of the best-of-five Stanley Cup Qualifying Series, they got beat due to a more experienced opponent imposing their will.
From the outset, it was the more aggressive Canes who came out with a point to prove. After losing all four games in the long forgotten about regular season series, they flipped the script. Ironically enough, it was former Ranger defenseman Brady Skjei who set the tone by delivering a thunderous hit that ended Jesper Fast’s day. If Fast is lost, that’s a tough hit. He certainly plays with the edge and grit necessary during the playoffs.
On the opposite end, it was Carolina that struck first. Off a sustained forecheck, it was Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen combining to set up a wide open Jaccob Slavin for his first goal only 61 seconds into the contest. A good accurate shot that Henrik Lundqvist was unable to get due to being moved laterally. Slavin was arguably the best player on the ice finishing with a goal and assist in 24-plus minutes against the Rangers top players.
They finished checks and carried most of the play in a lopsided first period. One in which the younger Blueshirts looked lost. They were a couple of steps behind. It showed as the Canes established their heavy forecheck by controlling puck possession and outskating and outhustling the Rangers. Even though his team improved as the game went on, David Quinn was quick to point out what the difference was.
The funny part is I drew the same exact conclusion. The Hurricanes looked mad. They probably were sick of hearing about how the Rangers dominated them. In every facet, it was true. They had better scoring, stronger special teams and superior goaltending. That’s likely why many pundits believe the Rangers will advance to the official Stanley Cup Playoffs.
I don’t consider myself an expert. I’m just a fan blogger, who tries to remain objective. After careful thought and consideration, I took the Blueshirts in a closely fought five games. If they win, that’s likely. This won’t be a walk in the park. Anyone who believed that doesn’t get hockey. Ex. Blue Jackets sweep Lightning in first round of 2019.
Another thing I agree on with Quinn is his team needing to be harder to play against. You barely noticed Chris Kreider. There weren’t a lot of rebounds to be had against Petr Mrazek, who did a good job in making 24 saves on 26 shots. He wasn’t under siege like Henrik Lundqvist, who sure gave his team a chance to come back in stopping 34 of 37 shots. Attempts largely favored the Canes, 69-49.
With the exception of the second period where the Rangers acquitted themselves better despite repeated trips to the sin bin by both teams, they got outplayed. Fifteen of their 26 shots came in the middle stanza where Mika Zibanejad got the the team on the board with a perfect tip in of a Ryan Lindgren point shot. He got better as the game went on. However, he and Artemi Panarin weren’t a factor on the power play, which was miserable. They took the collar in seven chances producing only eight shots. It was the Canes aggressive penalty killing that won out.
Quinn spoke about the Rangers needing to be tougher by getting inside the Hurricanes. That means going to the net and getting the jersey dirty. They spent too much time on the perimeter. Even though his team had 40 hits, that was a product of the Canes having the puck more. An area they must improve on if they want to give themselves a fighting chance.
Five-on-five, the advantage went to Carolina with a pair of goals on 22 shots. The Rangers got one on 16 shots. At even strength, the Canes held a 23-16 edge. On the power play, they converted on one key opportunity with Brett Howden off when Aho was given too much room to deflect in a Andrei Svechnikov shot. They went 1-for-7 with a dozen shots on Lundqvist. A better indication that they deserved the victory.
There can’t be undisciplined penalties like the one Greg McKegg took when he boarded Nino Niederreiter from behind with nearly 11 minutes left in regulation. Ditto for Tony DeAngelo, who interfered with Aho with just over three minutes remaining. At least Quinn sent out Panarin with Zibanejad to create a Marc Staal shorthanded goal that made things interesting with 1:55 to go.
Whether Fast and Igor Shesterkin can go tomorrow at high noon, it’s up to the 18 skaters to be better. Otherwise, they’ll be up against it. That means making certain they set their alarm clocks for not only the start after 12 PM, but the early morning to get mentally and physically prepared for an all important Game Two.
We’ll see what they’re made of.