Following a dismal effort that resulted in a predictable 3-1 defeat in Game Five to the Hurricanes, it’s all on the line for the Rangers later tonight.
It’s do or die. A tough position they’ve been in before during this postseason. In the first round, they stared elimination in the face by rallying from multiple deficits to win the final three games against the Penguins.
By the dramatic conclusion that was highlighted by an Artemi Panarin power play goal in overtime to come back and defeat the Pens 4-3 in overtime, that comeback from 3-1 down made them stronger. It’s why they were able to shrug off a two games to none deficit and win the next two at MSG in convincing fashion.
Now, following their worst game of the second round, they once again look to show the resilience and bounce back ability that have characterized this team. Win Game Six on home ice before a great atmosphere in prime time and extend the Eastern Conference Semifinals to a deciding Game Seven.
There’s no point in harping on what took place on Thursday night in Raleigh. That’s over with. As Gerard Gallant mentioned in the postgame interview above, they didn’t have much. Now, it’s about rising up and playing their game to put the pressure back on Carolina.
If they play the way they can to back up home ice at MSG starting at 8 PM tonight on ESPN, then there’ll be a Game Seven back in Carolina on Monday night. That’s their goal. Win this game and give themselves one more chance at winning this very odd series on the road.
One thing that should be pointed out is that they can’t expect it to come as easy as Games Three and Four. Especially the latter when they were never seriously threatened in a 4-1 victory. One that was easily their best of the series.
Don’t forget that the Hurricanes have been knocking on the door the past few years. They reached a Conference Finals under Rod Brind’Amour in 2019 and lost in the second round the past two years. Expect a better game from them.
What that means for the Rangers is they will need to bring their best game to push it seven. There can’t be any passengers. Starting with Chris Kreider, who didn’t have a shot in Game Five and has been held to only a goal in the first five games, the emotional leader must be a factor on Saturday night.
It also means better games from Mika Zibanejad, a banged up Panarin, Ryan Strome, Andrew Copp, Frank Vatrano, Adam Fox and Jacob Trouba. It’s that top six and those two defensemen who have gotten them to this point.
They can’t rely on Alexis Lafreniere or Filip Chytil to be the most consistent players each shift. That’s a losing proposition. As effective as both have been, they’ve only combined for two points. That would be Lafreniere setting up Chytil for the first goal of the series. Nothing since even though they’ve both had chances.
Undoubtedly, Igor Shesterkin will need to be at his absolute peak. He’s had a strong second round. The three goals he permitted on Thursday were the most the Canes have scored against him. He’s allowed eight goals on 156 shots. Superb numbers.
It doesn’t matter. They might need Shesterkin to be perfect. Antti Raanta has only allowed eight goals on 126 shots. The backup has played well in the first two rounds while starter Frederik Andersen gets closer to returning. He hasn’t been under as much duress as Shesterkin, who’s held up well to the Canes’ storm surge.
Every detail matters in these crucial games. For the Rangers, their puck management must be a lot better when they drop the puck at approximately 8:10 tonight. Whether it’s winning enough key face-offs or battles for loose pucks, they better be prepared.
It means doing a better job managing pucks in their end. They’ve struggled repeatedly with the aggressive Carolina forecheck. Limiting mistakes and making crisp passes to get out of their zone are necessary.
There can’t be Trouba coughing up pucks at the slightest pressure. Certainly not Fox getting caught up ice and beaten like he was by Andrei Svechnikov for the Canes’ insurance marker in a dreadful third period. Nor K’Andre Miller leaving his feet too early to allow a pass to get through for a goal.
The fundamentals are essential. They want to chip pucks behind the Canes’ defense and get on the attack. Too often, they’ve been chasing the action. When they use their skating legs and forecheck, that’s when they’re most effective.
That also means more hitting from Ryan Reaves than the one check he was credited with in Game Five. If he’s not taking the body, he’s useless. They need to be the punishers in Game Six. Not the punished. Too often, that was the case.
It will take all 18 skaters buying in and pushing forward. Whether Gallant has Tyler Motte up on the third line or moves Kaapo Kakko back up with Chytil and Lafreniere, they have to be in sync. Good shifts. Consistent work ethic. Make the right plays to find their game.
Personally, I would reunite Kakko with Chytil and Lafreniere. The young trio has brought energy when together. They’ve been able to use their combination of skating and skill to get pucks deep on the cycle. Something we haven’t seen enough of.
It makes sense to go with the four lines that got them here. That means Motte back down on the fourth line where his speed and grit can aid Kevin Rooney and Reaves. Kakko isn’t a fit on that line. It was a waste sticking him there. Either he plays top nine or there isn’t a place for him.
You can’t account for chemistry. If for some reason the lines aren’t clicking, then Gallant shouldn’t hesitate to adjust tonight. It’s win or go home for the summer. In a similar situation against Pittsburgh, he moved Lafreniere and Copp up with Zibanejad. It sure worked out.
What about the third pair of Justin Braun and Braden Schneider? They haven’t played a lot in this round. However, with the top four looking a little worn out due to the Canes’ taxing style, he must trust Braun and Schneider enough to give them regular shifts.
It can’t all fall on Fox, Ryan Lindgren, Trouba and Miller. The latter pair haven’t been as effective this series. They need a strong game. Of the four, Lindgren remains the most steady. Even through whatever is ailing him, he’s played well. He’s a warrior for a reason.
Undoubtedly, they’ll have to play better at five-on-five. That means controlling the pace and pinning the Canes in. That can lead to drawing penalties. Obviously, special teams really hurt them in Game Five.
Even though Zibanejad scored six seconds into their second power play, they allowed a shorthanded goal to Vincent Trocheck and gave up Teuvo Teravainen’s game-winner on a Vatrano hooking penalty.
For the series, the power play is only plus-one. They’ve scored three times and given up two shorthanded goals. That can’t happen later. They must make smarter decisions with the puck. That also means moving the Canes’ four penalty killers around like Game Four and tiring them out.
It means setting up good shots with traffic. Make it harder on Raanta. It also means taking advantage of the opportunities when they’re there.
Discipline will be a key factor if they’re to force a deciding seventh game. Stay away from lazy penalties. If they do wind up shorthanded, stay aggressive by attacking the points.
A lot will go into getting a win tonight. It’ll have to be earned. Once more, it’s time for the never say die Blueshirts to rise up to the challenge.