The New York Rangers were able to play a complete 60-minute game against the Carolina Hurricanes and took a game back in the series, winning 3-1. Madison Square Garden was rocking, and the Rangers “Stars” finally decided to shine for the first time in this series.
But, the most fantastic thing, and the thing that likely won them the game, was the line shuffling gamble that Head Coach Gerard Gallant took. It could have been disastrous if it didn’t work, and the risk/reward was large.
Let’s take a look.
The lines were worked around for the top three lines. The fourth line of Kevin Rooney, Ryan Reaves, and Tyler Motte was not touched in this one, and they each played exceptionally well in their own right. Motte especially, with the empty-net goal to seal it on a beautiful saucer shot off his backhand from three-quarters of the ice.
The first line of Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, and Filip Chytil was the standout. They were moving the puck with ease, and no disconnect was noticed in the first half of this game. I only say the first half because, at the start of the third, Gallant pushed for a more defensive game to contain the damage and protect the lead. He went right back to the original lines. Chytil fit in very well with the first-liners, and he made an impact. The three forwards combined for 12 shots, including the two goals that put the Rangers ahead from Zibanejad and Kreider. Kreider’s goal came at even strength in the midst of this line, Zibanejad’s was on the powerplay with a slick feed from Panarin. Additionally, their xGoals for of .84 and xGoals against of 0.14 was the highest differential for the Rangers. They kept the puck down at the other end, giving Igor Shesterkin a breather.
Another crucial line was the third line containing Kaapo Kakko, Frank Vatrano, and Andrew Copp. “The Best Of” line, as it seems, as it contained a member of each of the three lines and smushed them together to form an impromptu third line. The trio combined for five shots on the net, but they played a great situational game. Copp led the Rangers with a winning faceoff percentage of nine wins and seven losses. This is especially impactful because the Rangers have been manhandled in the faceoff department. Finally, this trio started the night and spent the most time on the ice together at 7:52.
Both of those lines worked wonderfully. The last line that was changed was the second line of Ryan Strome, Artemi Panarin, and Alexi Lafreniere. They were also playing well in the first half of this game, with a corsi% of 50%. This means that they were able to play a balanced offensive and defensive game in their 6:31 together.
What does this mean going forward? It simply means that I would expect Gallant to follow this same model going into game 4. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and those line pairings worked wonderfully.
Sure, you don’t want to see the “Kid Line” split up, but each of those three players gave their respected lines a much-needed spark. For the first two periods, these lines should remain, and then if the Rangers have a lead, go back to the original pairings. It’s high risk / high reward, and I would imagine that it won’t work every single time. But, with it being playoff time, sometimes you have to change things up to get ahead.