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Game Seven Preview: Rangers Look to Win First of Series in Carolina

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Igor Shesterkin has backstopped the New York Rangers’ first playoff run since 2017 with tremendous ability; the calm netminder makes routine saves, and difficult ones and can even contribute offensively but who thought the relatively young goalie would be confident enough to earn two assists in an elimination game? The answer is, that nobody except the Rangers head coach who has allowed him to do his thing back there because it is not that risky and said about Shesterkin (known as ‘Shesty’) as “having that focus from day one.”

But it has not just been a calm mind that has made the 26-year-old Vezina trophy frontrunner great, it’s been his athleticism and reflexes of course as well. Game six of the Eastern Conference semis where New York had to win or go home could have started out differently about five minutes in. At this time, Shesty stopped Carolina’s first-line center, Sebastian Aho on a breakaway which is hard considering Aho had 37 goals this season.

The man that the fans at Madison Square Garden serenade with the chant “IGOR” when he makes a big save, described what making a key save early on in an elimination game meant.

That definitely gave me a boost of energy. Then that goal after that really motivated me. Honestly, I just tried to do my job and stay in the game.

Rangers goaltender, Igor Shesterkin

The Rangers didn’t allow Carolina to score until 5:05 of the second period when former Ranger, Brady Skjei‘s wrist shot from the point beat Shesty through a screen for his first goal of the playoffs. However, in game five Carolina’s offence paled in comparison to New York’s in the areas of skating and shooting. Fourth line Ranger Tyler Motte carried just inside the blue line and took a seemingly harmless shot that ended up trickling through Anti Raanta to give New York a 1-0 lead in the first. Motte played well skating on a Ranger fourth line that benefitted from having its center back, Barclay Goodrow, who returned after missing every playoff game since game one of the first round.

The Rangers put the game on ice not even halfway through the second period when third-line center Filip Chytil scored his second of the night. The tall Czech confidently ripped a backhand that went under the crossbar right before The player who led the Rangers in offensive points during the regular season, ‘The Breadman’ Artemi Panarin scored a power-play goal (his first of the series) to cap off the win.

A Tale of Two Series, Rangers-Canes

The Rangers fired on all cylinders in game six to make it three straight victories at home in this series and six in 13 playoff games during this run. However, what stands out there is that the Rangers’ home record may be 6-1 but, on the road, it is 1-5 during these playoffs. Let’s just focus on their current series against the Canes. On the MSG Postgame show, the Rangers’ top-six center, who has just three assists in this series but has been a good spokesman for the team so far, commented on what game six felt like.

They’re good in their rink and their record shows it. We played a good game there, we just wanted to give ourselves a chance.

Rangers forward, Ryan Strome

In the three games the Rangers have won, they scored first except for game one. In game one, the Blueshirts played well, leading the game until the final two minutes of the third period when Carolina’s first-line center Aho scored a breakaway. Then in overtime, Shesterkin gave up a shot that deflected off a usually great defenseman, Ryan Lindgren‘s leg and into the Ranger net. In terms of how game seven at PNC Arena may go, it will be a low-scoring game since every game in Carolina in this series has been decided by two goals or less.

Three Keys to Ranger Success

On evolvinghockey.com one can go to the skater’s stats tab. Once there, specifying the Rangers and Hurricanes in the playoffs will show stats like, which skaters have the highest “Corsi-For percentage” or the most “giveaways.” Starting with giveaways, the players with the five most giveaways are all Rangers and include top pair defensemen, Jacob Trouba and K’Andre Miller. As a matter of fact, Trouba has galvanized the Rangers with huge open-ice hits in this series as he did in game three but on the other hand, he turned over the puck in game five which led to a two-on-one rush the other way and Vincent Trocheck scoring an important shorthanded goal.

The Rangers have more giveaways because they have turned the puck over more easily than the Canes in this series, elucidating that Brind’Amour has demanded that his players be responsible with the puck. Want evidence, well how many Canes turnovers have led to goals directly? None. Another reason why this is true is, that the Rangers have scored 13 goals in this second-round series and five of them have been on the power play. Overall, the Blueshirt man-advantage crew has converted 5-of-20 opportunities (25%) while the Hurricanes’ power play has gone just one for 19.

It’s been a very defensive style in Carolina’s building and there is all the reason to believe it will be that way in game seven. However, one way that it might shift in the Rangers’ favor is if goaltender Anti Raanta starts giving up “soft goals” in the first period. Raanta gave up a soft goal on Tyler Motte‘s shot as he skated across the Cane’s blue line during the first period in game six and doing that again would enhance the Blueshirts confidence in a winner-take-all game seven.

Chris Kreider Must Make an Impact

This is not an overall indictment of the Rangers’ top point-getting forwards from the regular season because Zibanejad has 16 points in 13 games for the Rangers during these playoffs and four points in this series. However, after Chris Kreider finished third in the NHL in goal scoring during the regular season he has managed to score just one goal and one assist in this series, albeit they did allow the fewest goals in the NHL during the 2021-22 regular season.

Against the Canes, Kreider has just one goal scored in game three, meaning that for the last three games the guy who led the team with 50 goals this year, has been shut down. As for Panarin, yes he tacked on the fifth goal of New York’s game six bludgeoning of a hapless Canes road performance, but other than that he has one goal and two assists in six games of this series. While each player has contributed to winning at home in this series, the Ranger offence has scored only two goals on the road in this series and they have to find a way to break through tonight.

One way to get the first player in Ranger history since Adam Graves (1993-94) to score 50 goals heating up in game seven is to play smart and make Carolina take penalties. The Rangers cannot lose their cool in game seven when DeAngelo or Jared Lorentz runs into their goalie, that is what Carolina wants to force the Rangers to do because at some point the Hurricane power play will wake up. Instead, the Rangers have to play like their ‘kid line’ has all playoffs; make clean breakouts, get the puck deep and forecheck. This will frustrate the Carolina team that has not lost at home in these playoffs by playing a structured game that does not give the opposition anything.

The road to victory for Gallant’s group is clear, if they play a smart game by trusting their weapons which includes the league’s best goaltender and special teams to prevail in the end, it is possible to win a game seven on the road. But despite the fact that the Rangers took game six easily, tonight’s game will be a whole ‘another bowl of wax’ because winning against a stingy defence that is undefeated at home in the playoffs is a tall order and to do it, leaders like Kreider, Panarin and their top defensemen like Adam Fox need to show up big time for it to happen.

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