After staving off elimination for the fourth time this playoff, the Rangers head to Carolina for a do-or-die Game 7 in Raleigh Monday night. Home Ice has been the decisive factor in this series thus far, so how can the Rangers go south and steal one game in front of a rabid Hurricane crowd?
1. Make it boring. The Blueshirts best road game of the series was Game 1 in Carolina. They neutralized the crowd after jumping out to an early 1-0 lead and controlled the game for the first 40 minutes. After squandering prime opportunities to extend the lead, they lost that game in overtime, but that was the closest the Rangers, or anyone, have come to stealing one in Carolina. The Rangers must get off to a good start and defuse the boozed-up Memorial Day tailgaters.
2. Igor. I feel that I shouldn’t have to explain this very much, but Shesterkin must have another phenomenal game. His potential counterpart waiting for him in the Conference Finals is the best goalie in the world. If Igor wants to take the next step into that stratosphere, he has to shut the door on series-clinching games like this.
3. The 3rd line has to score if the top six isn’t going to produce. The top two lines have been defused by Carolina for most of the series. Going back to Game 1, the line that continually produced the most scoring chances was the “Kid Line.” Gallant may change the lines before the game, so the 3rd line might not be exactly Lafreniere, Chytil, and Kakko, but whoever is slotted into the 3rd line will need to score if this team is going to win. I think they should keep those lines the same as they were in Game 6. The addition of Barclay Goodrow from the press box had immediate dividends and solidified the 4th line. Perhaps his defensive prowess and faceoff ability are the slight push the Rangers need to get over the hump into the Conference Finals.
4. Special Teams need to be special. The Rangers have had the edge in the series on special teams, which needs to continue. New York had one of the top powerplay units all season long, and it’s one of the reasons they’ve gotten this far. If they get any, they will need to cash in on the opportunities when they come around. In conjunction with the power play, the penalty kill needs to continue to stifle the Hurricanes. Carolina’s struggles on the powerplay are evident. During the regular season, they were clicking at 22%, but that percentage has dipped to 12% during the postseason.
5. If the Rangers are going to win this road Game 7, they will need to play a disciplined North/South game. They can’t afford costly turnovers that result in odd-man rushes. As Artemi Panarin eloquently put it earlier in the series, “Don’t do stupid sh*t at the blueline.”
6. If New York can successfully do some of these, they have a good chance of winning. If Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider make an appearance, their odds of winning go up tremendously.
I picked the Rangers to win this series in six because I knew how hard a Game 7 in Carolina would be, but anything can happen in a one-game playoff. Whatever happens Monday night, this team has far exceeded many people’s expectations going into the year. Making a Conference Final against the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning would be an incredible experience for this young core. Still, the fact that they’ll have two-game sevens under their belts is an experience that will pay dividends in future seasons.