A 6-2 victory advances the New York Rangers to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they have a best-of-seven duel with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The New York Rangers have been battle-tested all season long, including the postseason. The Rangers’ entered Monday night’s “winner-take-all” matchup against the Carolina Hurricanes with an ugly postseason road record of 1-5. Having been here before in the previous series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Rangers had a general idea of what it takes to win such a game. When all was said and done, the Rangers easily won with a 6-2 victory.
New York knew they’d have to set the tone early to take the home crowd out of the game. The Rangers were awarded the game’s first power-play opportunity; just a 1:42 into the game, Sebastian Aho was given a two-minute hooking penalty. Coming fresh off the bench, Fox took a neat pass from Alexis Lafreniere and put it in the net, beating Antti Raanta on his left side. The goal put the Rangers up 1-0, and they never looked back.
Following Fox’s power-play goal was a Chris Kreider power-play goal, a slap-pass from Mika Zibanejad to set up Kreider and gave New York a cushion, 2-0. The other three goals were scored by Ryan Strome, another Kreider goal on a partial breakaway, and Filip Chytil, who is really coming into his own. His goal tonight gave him four total in the series. He’s becoming a vital part of the Rangers’ offense.
There were many keys to this series, and one of them was to shut down the Carolina Hurricanes’ power-play unit. Their power-play efficiency finished at a low of 13% for the playoffs, something that needs heavily working on next season. The Rangers were very efficient on their power-play chances, scoring on two of three of them tonight. Carolina’s Achilles heel was their inability to score on the power-play. They couldn’t completely shut down the Ranger’s special teams, whether it was the first line or the second line. The Hurricanes’ inability to hold back the Rangers’ power-play in games six and seven lost them the series.
Another key to the series was home ice. The Rangers won three of three at Madison Square Garden, and the Hurricanes made it real close, winning three of four at PNC Arena. New York defended MSG and forced Carolina to have to win an 8th consecutive game at home. I’d like to believe those odds are severely against them.
Let’s say it as it is; without Igor Shesterkin, the Blueshirts wouldn’t be where they are. He stopped a total of 74 shots in games six and seven. Granted, the Rangers had some confident periods where they looked good defensively, but without the strong backbone of Igor, who knows where they’d be. He played well enough for a Vezina award, but now he’s playing for something with a whole lot more meaning, a Stanley Cup championship. I think it’s really fair to say he’s one of the hottest goalies on the planet right now, helping carry a tremendous load for the Rangers as they head to their next series, the Eastern Conference Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Bolts are a powerhouse, and they have players up and down the lineup that have exactly what it takes to win a championship. The Bolts are seeking a third championship in a row, and for the third consecutive year, they have to go through a New York hockey team.
The New York Islanders had back-to-back appearances in the Eastern Conference Finals, and both appearances came against the Lighting. One year featured both teams fighting it out in the bubble, which is hard to assess because neither team traveled. Home ice is a big part of the playoffs, as we all just witnessed in this latest playoff series against Carolina. Certainly not taking anything away from Tampa Bay. They deserved their win in the 2019-2020 season, as weird as it was.
This season, the Rangers finished second in the Metropolitan Division, and Tampa Bay finished third in the Atlantic Division. The Blueshirts have the home-ice advantage, the key the Islanders were missing last season. Game one is Wednesday at 8 o’clock.