The Excitement Is Real

Who else can’t contain their excitement about tonight? It’s been a long time since this team played in the second round.

Honestly, it feels like much longer than five years. So much changed since then. The Letter. The commitment to a rebuild. Some of our favorite players leaving for other teams. New faces arriving.

It required patience. Missing the playoffs was tough. I don’t count the silly Play In Qualifying Series either. We know what happened. Henrik Lundqvist played for the final time. Igor Shesterkin arrived.

That was then. This is now. Finally a T-E-A-M we can get behind. They never quit. The Never Say Die Blueshirts didn’t against Sidney Crosby and the more experienced Penguins last round. They battled to come back and win the last three games in historic fashion.

Resilient. That’s what these New York Rangers have been all year under the very even keel Gerard Gallant, who never gets too high or low. He is a calming influence which has helped his players not panic.

Tonight is the start of the Metropolitan Division Final against the Hurricanes in Raleigh. The loudest fans in the NHL will be rocking. There will still be some support for the Rangers due to fans who live in the area. It’ll be a fun environment.

It’s a step up in weight class. They can’t expect to fall behind like the opening round. The Canes can storm surge when they get the lead early. Sam Rosen is correct when he told Steve Serby of The NY Post that the Rangers must play with the lead. That should bode well.

It’s ironic that you have a goalie match-up featuring Shesterkin versus former Lundqvist pupil Antti Raanta to start the series. Who would’ve ever believed that after the season Frederik Andersen had. His status remains unknown. He’s skated, but hasn’t practiced.

Tony DeAngelo is now public enemy number one. A role he enjoys. The half dozen ex-Rangers will have something to say about this series. DeAngelo is the biggest of those guys after his eight points in Round One versus Boston. Can the Blueshirts get underneath his skin like Brad Marchand did? A master at it.

I’d love to see Gallant get the match-up of Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider and Frank Vatrano against Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov and gifted rookie Seth Jarvis (13th overall in 2020 Draft). But they’re likely to see a lot of Jordan Staal, Nino Niederreiter and Jesper Fast in Carolina.

Who will Gallant use to slow down the Aho line? Aho has had a good past against the Blueshirts. Will it be Artemi Panarin, Andrew Copp and Ryan Strome? Or might he try to mix and match with K’Andre Miller and Jacob Trouba getting the early assignment. But if the pair has issues, it could fall on Ryan Lindgren and Adam Fox.

Having Tyler Motte back gives that checking line a boost due to his speed and grit quotient. He is tough. Maybe he,, Kevin Rooney and Ryan Reaves see a few shifts against the Canes’ top line or even the underrated second line centered by Vincent Trocheck. That features Teuvo Teravainen and Max Domi.

How much can Alexis Lafreniere make an impact? He had a good first round scoring twice and adding two assists. He and Filip Chytil have chemistry due to their simple approach. Can Kaapo Kakko keep up? He’s going to have to absorb some hits.

How long before Gallant bumps up Lafreniere to Zibanejad and Kreider if Vatrano struggles? That’s my wildcard.

Can they win enough critical face-offs to keep the aggressive mindset of the Canes at bay? Puck possession is their team strength along with depth. Puck management must be much better to withstand the Carolina attack.

The battle of special teams is crucial. That means capitalizing on the power play and doing a good job on the penalty kill. Maintaining discipline is the key. Get enough pucks through on Raanta. Shoot the puck Panarin. Get traffic. Make it hard on him.

We know the Blueshirts must be sturdier around Shesterkin. The Canes will crash the net similar to the Penguins. They will look for greasy goals. Clearing the net front is huge. Forwards must come back.

It’s all very exciting. It should be. Let’s enjoy it. Game One is next. I’ll have a full game recap later.

Follow me on Twitter at BattleOfHudson. See you later.


About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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