Welcome to the April 28 edition of THW’s Blueshirt Blast. Here, we cover the latest news for the New York Rangers as they progress through the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and try to change the ending.
Found: Killer Instinct
One thing that the Rangers definitely changed in their first round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins was their killer instinct. Okay, it wasn’t that apparent in game two, but from then on this team kept finding ways to win.
I give full credit to the Penguins for altering their game plan to try and counter the Blueshirts’ speed. For a game, it certainly seemed to be working, but this team adapted. What followed was far from pretty, but it got the job done. The Rangers took what was given, played a completely different style of game, and ground out three more wins.
If there was any place tailor-made for the Rangers to regress, it was game five. The Penguins controlled play for large parts of the game, were pressing hard and playing desperate. No one was playing more desperate than Mark-Andre Fleury–for most of the game it looked like he would put the team on his back and carry them. Add to that the injury to Mats Zuccarello, and there was more than enough adversity to extend the series.
Even with all that, the overtime showed us a Rangers team committed to attacking and closing out a playoff series early. And that’s exactly what Carl Hagelin did at 10:52 of OT. For the first time since 2008, the New York Rangers won a Stanley Cup Playoff series in fewer than six games. If the Rangers put together another deep run, that killer instinct (not to mention the few extra days rest it provided) will be a huge difference-maker.
First on everyone’s mind was the injury sustained by Mats Zuccarello in the first period of game five. While fighting for position in front of the net, he stumbled a bit and a slap shot from Ryan McDonagh hit him in the side of the helmet. Zuccarello left the game and would not return. Now the Rangers list him as “out indefinitely” with an upper-body injury.
Any injury involving the head is scary, and the “out indefinitely” tag even more so. We can only hope that Mats makes a full recovery, and that the Rangers do the right thing and don’t let him back out until he is 100% healthy.
Filling Zuccarello’s spot in the lineup at RW with Rick Nash and Derick Brassard will probably be Martin St. Louis. Speedy winger Jesper Fast would then jump up to MSL’s place and skate with Kevin Hayes and Carl Hagelin. James Sheppard will make his Rangers playoff debut in the second round, likely on the fourth line with Tanner Glass and Dominic Moore. The Rangers will call up a player from the Hartford Wolf Pack as a reserve, but not before Hartford’s playoff game Tuesday against the Providence Bruins.
Kevin Klein will return for game one against the Washington Capitals. Klein broke his arm blocking an Alex Ovechkin shot in the Rangers’ March 11 game against these same Capitals. Alain Vigneault had some fun with the announcement, saying that Klein hadn’t talked to him yet, but “he should be good.”
Mark Staal and Keith Yandle did not skate in the Rangers’ optional practice on Monday. Both will be ready to play for the start of round 2. It was likely just a maintenance day for Staal. Yandle has been dealing with “body soreness”, and has been missing practices and morning skates since late in the Pittsburgh series, when he battled a reported stomach flu.
It seemed inevitable this season that the Rangers would meet the New York Islanders in the playoffs. The Washington Capitals changed that script, however, winning game seven 2-1. For the fifth time in the last seven seasons, these two teams will meet up in a best-of-seven. Both have had their share of changes since their last meeting in 2013, though. While the biggest players (Ovechkin, Backstrom, Lundqvist, Nash, McDonagh) remain, their coaches and supporting staffs are different.
The series against Washington promises to be much more physical than the first round (they recorded an incredible 313 hits in their seven games against the Islanders, compared to the Rangers’ 172). That hitting takes a toll–not only on the team being hit, but the team delivering the hits as well. Look for the Rangers to try and re-establish their speed game to mitigate this higher physicality. After all, the Caps can’t hit what they can’t catch.
Kevin has been covering the Florida Panthers and New York Rangers for The Hockey Writers since the 2013-14 season. Before that, he has written about, played, and coached hockey at all levels. He grew up a Rangers fan in the Southern Tier of New York State, but now lives in the Atlanta area with his wife and two sons. You can reach him on Twitter as @kmizTHW , or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org).