Artemi Panarin’s OT goal led to feelings that haven’t been quite felt since the team advanced passed the Washington Capitals in 2015. Derek Stepan scored on a juicy rebound and put the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals. Oddly enough, the Rangers’ face-off against Derek Stepan in round two of this postseason.
The Carolina Hurricanes pose as big of a threat to the Broadway Blueshirts as the Pittsburgh Penguins did, maybe even bigger. Unlike Pittsburgh, the Carolina roster features many skaters New York must focus on. The Hurricanes are big up and down the lineup, featuring forwards like Teuvo Teravainen, Sebastian Aho, Vincent Trocheck, Andrei Svechnikov, and playoff veteran Jordan Staal. All noted forwards can place the puck in the net with ease, causing many potential issues for the Rangers. Along with their forwards, they’ve got a former Blueshirt between the pipes, Antti Raanta.
Raanta is playing some of his career-best hockey, posting a 2.37 goals-against stat with a .927 save percentage. Raanta and his elevated play helped the ‘Canes squeeze on by the Boston Bruins in their own seven-game series. Raanta hasn’t had the opportunity he has currently, which is starting in the playoffs for a team that has its eyes set on Stanley Cup Championship. With Raanta rolling, the Rangers will need to play even better than they had against Louie Domingue and Tristan Jarry.
Antti Raanta isn’t the only former New York Ranger on the team, but they have four other players that have time spent with New York. Besides for the already mentioned Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta, the following players are currently on the Hurricanes roster; Jesper Fast, Brady Skjei, Brendan Smith, and the team leader in playoff points (8), Tony DeAngelo. For those that don’t remember, DeAngelo’s Ranger career went south fast. Rumors were of a locker room fight between him and Alexander Georgiev, but nothing was ever confirmed. I wouldn’t be surprised if DeAngelo has his fair share of assists and goals when this series is over.
The Hurricanes’ gameplay is relatively simple, quick transition. They have followed the Tampa Bay Lightning model, quick to transition from defense to offense, which is a weak spot for New York. In the couple of instances where Pittsburgh got up the ice quick, they caught the Blueshirts’ defensemen sleeping. If the Rangers don’t adjust, they’ll fall in this series quickly.
This series will be the first official time the Hurricanes and Rangers meet in the playoffs. Two of them met in the bubble, but that was a “play-in” series. Carolina beat them in a best of five-set, sweeping them in three. That’s where we all got our first look at how good they are and the potential they have.
In my most expert opinion, I think the Hurricanes are a handful for the Blueshirts. As mentioned above, the transition game is one of the few weaknesses the Rangers have. All four ‘Cane lines are deep and quick. They are sound defensively, too, with quick puck movements and the ability to score goals. If New York wants to have a chance at the Eastern Conference Finals, they will need all skaters to give their best efforts. For the Rangers to move on, I think this gets drawn out to another seven games. Carolina is too good of a team to drop in just six games. If I had to bank on it, though, I think the Hurricanes move on in six.
The current objective for New York tonight is to feel out the Hurricanes and to split the first two games. If they split, I like their odds headed back home, where they have played better hockey.
PNC Arena in Raleigh should be very loud and hostile tonight; let’s see if New York can find an early lead in this series.