Hockey

Why the Rangers May be Ready to Force a Game Seven

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The New York Rangers came from behind in game five to stave off elimination but their work is not finished. Now, Gerard Gallant’s team is setting their sights on winning tonight in game six but they will have to win their first game on the road in this series against the Penguins. Game five was a roller-coaster ride that saw the Penguins take a 2-0 lead in the second period and their captain Sidney Crosby get knocked out of the game by a hard hit from Ranger’s defenseman Jacob Trouba.

With the Pens reeling, Adam Fox, Alexis Lafreniere and Trouba all scored and helped mount a three-goal comeback that gave the Blueshirts the lead, but the Pens stormed back to tie the game on Jake Guentzel‘s seventh goal of the series. However, behind a strong game from the Rangers’ third line, that line’s center Filip Chytil scored a power-play goal on Penguins replacement goalie, Louis Domingue which ended up being the winning goal that has given Gerard Gallant’s team the chance to fight another day

#72 Filip Chytil scores at 2:53 of the third period in game five of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Madison Square Garden in New York, New York.

In-game five, one of the Rangers’ heroes was defenseman Ryan Lindgren who came back from an injury and delivered 19 minutes for his teammates. Lindy’s strong presence in his defensive zone and smart play all over the ice allowed the Rangers’ goalie, Igor Shesterkin to settle down in game five.

Meanwhile, more help may be on the way because it has been reported that forward, Tyler Motte is a “game-time decision” when it comes to suiting up for game six, according to Ranger head coach, Gerard Gallant. Gallant described that Motte would add a lot to his team because of “his speed” and “penalty killing” but it remains to be seen if the grinder will in fact be ready to go tonight.

The Rangers ‘Kid Line’ is Alright!

During this series, Chris Kreider has scored just two goals after lighting up the league with 52 during the regular season. However, the ten-year NHL vet knows too well that the team that succeeds in the spring plays well as a team and not individually. During the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs, Kreider was a wide-eyed rookie when he suited up in a Ranger uniform for the first time and he described which details his team needed to clean up in order to win game six.

The Rangers’ third line is known now as ‘the kid line’ because it is centred by Chytil, while the number-two pick in 2019 Kaapo Kakko and 2020’s first-overall pick, Lafreniere are on the 22-year-old’s wings. They got the Rangers’ offence started in game five by moving the puck up ice and skating– it’s that simple and the biggest guy on that line, Kakko, used his strength and skill to carry the puck below the goal-line and give the Penguins defence nightmares. Then late in the second period, Kakko found his linemate, ‘Laf’ open in the slot with a backhand pass, which he used to tie the game and shift momentum in the Rangers’ favour.

Hopefully, the kid line can keep up their performance in game five tonight, where Laf scored for the second game in a row and Kakko added his second point of the series. One thing that happened to the Rangers’ third line recently was it lost two-time cup-winner, Barclay Goodrow, who had been a key veteran presence in their ranks but call it a blessing in disguise because this allowed the ‘kid line’ to take form, as head coach Gallant described:

Most coaches like to have a third line that can put the puck in the net and has some skill and then you look at other teams and you got your Barclay Goodrow’s, your Mottes that can check and skate with anybody…Three weeks ago, that wasn’t going to be our third line but all of sudden injuries happen and the kids have been outstanding.

Rangers head coach, Gerard Gallant on the ‘Kid Line’

Key Matchups the Rangers can Exploit in Game Six

The Rangers’ third line excelled last time out against a sub-par third line that included left-wing, Jason Zucker. Zucker missed the first two games of this series but has looked energized since returning however he is a mismatch for the Rangers’ third-line right-wing, Kaapo Kakko. Kakko is 6’3″ and Zucker is 5’11” and look for Kakko to use that advantage to win and keep the puck from his opponent tonight.

Nevertheless, to force a game seven in this series, the Rangers’ first line needs to start scoring. Evgeni Malkin will replace Crosby as the first-line center, so it’s not like containing the Penguins’ first line will be easy. but Rangers’ top-line center, Mika Zibanejad will have to tire out Malkin who is six years his senior. One “extra stat” that shows why Zibanejad’s play in the series has been good is giveaways and takeaways. In any playoff series, even the best players give possession away because Crosby even had nine takeaways and seven giveaways while his counterpart, Zibanejad has eight takeaways as opposed to just 5 giveaways.

New York Rangers
PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA – MAY 09: Chris Kreider #20 of the New York Rangers talks to Mika Zibanejad #93 and K’Andre Miller #79 during the third period of Game Four of the First Round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG PAINTS Arena on May 09, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)

During the regular season, Zibanejad finished with 80 points which were nearly as many as Crosby had (84) but so far, ‘Magic Mika’ has not scored a goal. It’s clear that the Penguins have won the battle of the first lines so far in this series because Guentzel has scored seven goals, many of which have shifted momentum in Pittsburgh’s favour. In order to win tonight, the Rangers must find a way to slow down Guentzel and that starts with covering these elusive Penguins well in their defensive zone.

Penalties taken by both teams have been a big part of this series. In-game three (the first game of the series in Pittsburgh) the Penguins scored two power-play goals in the first period and in-game five in New York, the Rangers won the game because of a power-play goal in the third period. Last game, the Rangers’ penalty kill kept Pittsburgh from scoring on the power play for the first time since game two and the common thread here is that in both of those games the Rangers won. So, it is clear that if Sidney Crosby, a big part of the Penguins’ power play, is out then the Rangers have to be disciplined and if they can stay out of the box, they will have a strong chance to win the game as they did previously in this series.

On the other hand, the Rangers’ power play which was one of the best in the NHL during the regular season has to capitalize if they get the opportunities tonight. One of the reasons they are having trouble is the Penguins had the third-best Penalty kill in the league this season and that has continued in this series as the Rangers’ power play could not score during their last two road games. Of course, the Penguins defensemen like Mike Matheson deserve credit for their play. Matheson’s on-ice-goals-against is eight however in “5-on-5 close” situations, the veteran has been on the ice for five goals-for and just two against, which shows how tough Matheson has played defensively in this first-round series.

NHL Hall-of-Famer is commonly known as ‘the great one’, Wayne Gretzky is credited with saying this quote about the role that the puck plays in a hockey game. “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” Gretzky meant that players who are about average follow the play and great players can see where the play is going and use that knowledge to make even better plays. So far, the best player who will suit up tonight has been Jake Guentzel because he has played where the puck is going to be. Will some of the “elite” players on the New York Rangers answer the bell? We will find out tonight when the Rangers and Penguins battle it out in what will be an exciting game six at Pittsburgh’s home arena.

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