For the sixth time this postseason, the Rangers will be facing elimination. Although it was only 40 days ago, it feels like more time has passed since this young core’s first playoff game. At the end of the regular season, this New York roster was filled with players who only experienced playoff hockey in the 2020 COVID bubble for a short three-game sweep at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes. Since then, they’ve gone on and played 19 games (number 20 will be played tonight in Tampa), won two Game 7’s, won five matches while facing elimination, and been able to change their style of play on the fly, which is the Stanley Cup Playoffs. However corny or cheesy the moniker of No Quit in New York is, this team embodies it.
Exactly a month ago, the Rangers faced their first elimination game against the Penguins on May 11th. Down 3-1 in the series against Pittsburgh and the countless Hall of Famers they dress, the Rangers fell behind early in Game 5 and trailed 2-0 midway through the contest. The season looked like it would only last for another 30 minutes (not another 30 days) until the Rangers rattled off three straight goals in the second period to take the lead. The game would be a nailbiter in which Filip Chytil would get the game-winning goal (his first goal in this magical run of his). New York would trail early in the next two elimination games against Pittsburgh but fought back in each one to advance. They also became the first team to record three consecutive come-from-behind victories to clinch a series.
The win-or-go-home games against the Carolina Hurricanes in the second round differed significantly from the first round. The Rangers would get out to early leads in Games 6 and 7 against Carolina and never looked back. New York changed their run-and-gun style of play in the first round to a more defensively responsible and structured style, stunning the Hurricanes on home ice in Game 7.
As formidable as the Penguins and Hurricanes are, they are not the two-time defending champions. They have not won 10 consecutive playoff series (in fact, the Penguins have lost in the first round four years in a row now). This Tampa team is built differently. Even after losing two consecutive games for the first time in 18 attempts and no Brayden Point, the champs didn’t blink. They’ve rattled off three straight wins, two with the game-winning goals coming in the final two minutes. Now the series shifts to Tampa for a potential elimination game Saturday night.
Keys to staving off elimination.
- Take it one game at a time.
- Win the special teams battle. The powerplay must capitalize when the opportunity presents itself, and the penalty kill must shut the door.
- Limit stupid penalties. Game three was lost in part because of dumb, undisciplined penalties. If you’re going to knock off the champs, you have to play smart.
- Play simple north/south hockey. Cross-ice passes are great when they work, but often they give the other team possession and potential odd-man rushes when they don’t. If it’s open, go for it, but don’t force it.
- Shoot the puck when you have the chance. Filip Chytil has four goals this playoff when facing elimination. If the Rangers win, I expect him to have at least one.
- Igor will have to be better than Vasilevskiy. Arguably, Igor has been the better goaltender this series, but the man they call “Big Cat” has only given up one goal in his last seven series-clinching games, and he has two chances to shut the door on the Rangers. These next two games could be legacy games for Igor Shesterkin should he outplay Vassy and shut the door on the champs.