It’s the final game of the regular season. For the Rangers, there’s nothing to play for. They’re locked into the third seed in the Metropolitan Division. The only question is who they will play. Either the Devils or the Hurricanes.
That all depends on tonight. With the Devils opting to rest Vitek Vanecek along with a couple of other starters, they’re prioritizing health over winning the division. They still can win it if they beat the Caps and the Hurricanes lose at the Panthers, who also are playing for something. The chance to avoid the Bruins.
While some teams have to decide what’s best to do in Game 82 with the playoffs on deck, you have a situation like the Rangers, who can’t move up. So, why is Gerard Gallant going with the same lineup as Tuesday night? That’s better left for the coach to explain to reporters.
There’s a risk. While the Maple Leafs are undoubtedly resting players since they have nothing to play for, there’s still a hockey game to be played. Would you dress Ben Harpur over Ryan Lindgren, who’s looked sharp since returning? What about giving Adam Fox the night off or Jacob Trouba? They’re both gamers. But there’s nothing on the line.
What’s most important in the final game of a long schedule, thanks to how the NHL operates, is to come out healthy. The Rangers can’t afford any injuries in a meaningless 82nd game that’s just for paperwork.
You hope that none of the key players get banged up playing such a game. I can’t imagine Toronto playing that hard. However, they went toe to toe with first round opponent Tampa the other night. They won without top stars, Auston Matthews, and Mitch Marner. They got great goaltending from Joseph Woll. He again will tend the net later.
Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe is prioritizing the first round rematch against the Lightning. A wise move. Will it finally pay off in a series win for the first time since 2004? That depends on how they play. They’re the better team this time. But we know the playoffs are a whole different animal. They draw the championship proven Lightning. A team that’s struggled down the stretch, and has players injured.
So, does Gallant know something we don’t?
Why play Igor Shesterkin tonight? I can understand wanting to keep him sharp. There are a few days off before the first round begins. That’ll be either on Monday or Tuesday. He’s back in form. As long as nothing happens, fine.
Update: It’s Jaroslav Halak in net. Mollie Walker made it seem like it was the exact same lineup. I’m glad Gallant at least opted to rest Shesterkin.
I probably would’ve given Jaroslav Halak the start. He’s been a steady professional backup. Exactly as advertised. The veteran turned around his year following a slow start. Much respect to the elder statesman.
With the puck dropping soon at MSG on Fan Appreciation Night, let’s hope for the best.