The New York Rangers technically were outside an Eastern Conference Playoff spot when the regular season was suspended on March 12, 2020. However, before the COVID-19 lockdown, the Rangers had been playing pretty well. They were 13-7-1 since Feb, 1, and their two best offensive players, Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad were on top of their game. Led by Panarin with 95 points and Zibanejad with 75, the team was starting to hit a groove.
During that 21-game span, Panarin registered 19 points, including a 13 game point-scoring streak. Zibanejad had a streak of his own in the last six games leading up to the pause, notching 11 goals and 2 assists. The team was also starting to play better defense. Though they still weren’t as consistent as head coach Dave Quinn would have liked, they showed promise in buying into the system. It really started to click on Feb. 1 with Henrik Lundqvist’s 1-0 shutout over the Detroit Red Wings, and if they can build on where they left off and peak at the right time anything is possible. Plus, they might have a Wild Card or two up their sleeve that can put them over the edge.
Chris Kreider was playing well before he suffered a broken foot just after he signed a contract extension. He was expected to miss the remainder of the season, however, with the extra time off and rehab, he’ll be back for the opening play-in series against the Carolina Hurricanes. Kreider was a plus-13 and had 45 points in 63 games for the Blueshirts before the pause.
Related: Top 3 All-Time Rangers Goalies
The series against the Hurricanes will be a best-of-five to decide who moves on to the traditional 16-team Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Rangers owned the Hurricanes this season, beating them all four times they faced each other. However, the postseason is a completely different animal than the regular season.
The Rangers still might be able to make a deep run, and here’s why.
The East is really strong this year but, the Rangers might have something to say about that. Sure, it might not seem likely since they’re out of a typical playoff spot, but factors are working in their favor that should make a significant run attainable.
Two Princes and a King
Along with solid team defense, the Rangers’ goaltending could put them over the edge and help get them deep into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
In today’s era, it’s rare to utilize two goalies equally throughout the season, let alone use three consistently. It’s even less common to use more than one goalie during a deep playoff run if the starter remains injury-free. Given the unique circumstances we find ourselves in due to COVID-19, as well as the rare situation the Rangers’ find themselves in with their goaltending situation, everything could start to work in their favor once things heat up again.
First, let’s talk about the young bucks. Alexandar Georgiev started the season with the Rangers and had a solid go in his second full campaign with the squad. His numbers are almost identical to his rookie campaign when he showed a lot of promise.
There were trade rumors surrounding Georgiev pretty much right out of training camp. And given the stellar play of Igor Shestesrkin with the Rangers’ minor league affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack, plus Lundqvist’s huge contract that was going to be very tough to get rid of, most thought Georgiev would be long gone by now. However, management decided to hang onto him and that could prove to be a good move at some point come August or September.
Georgiev may be called on in relief of Shesterkin or Lundqvist to help lead the team to the promised land. Some may not think it’s likely but I believe he has that in him. At the very least he can come on and help right the ship while one of the other two netminder’s can regroup. That kind of short relief can prove invaluable come playoff time.
That was the chant heard at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 7 when Shesterkin made his NHL debut. He helped the Rangers beat the high-powered Colorado Avalanche 5-3. Shesterkin made some key saves in the late stages of the game and gave the Rangers a much-needed energy boost throughout, anyone watching the game could see the extra jump in Rangers’ skaters.
He proved he can excel in the playoffs in the KHL, where he had a 1.91 career postseason goals-against average (GAA). Plus, he was at the top of the AHL this regular season, his first in North America. Shesterkin played in 25 games with the Wolf Pack and had a 17-4-3 record with a 1.90 GAA. He also earned three shutouts and posted a .934 save percentage before getting called up to the Blueshirts.
Shesterkin brings the “it” factor which was evident from his first start in a Rangers uniform. How many goalies have heard their names chanted in their first game? He works his butt off, much like Henrik, to get better every day.
Wolf Pack head coach Chris Knoblach had this to say about Shesterkin, “He is a really good professional. He comes to the rink, works hard, is focused every day, whether it’s practice or games,” Knoblauch also said “Here is a rookie in his first year in the American League, and he has set the bar very high for others to follow just with his professionalism.
“As for his play,” Knoblauch said, “I think the highlights and his numbers speak for themselves about how well he’s playing.” And he’s continued to do so with the big club, he really understands the game and seems to have adjusted to the North American on-ice logistics quickly.
If he’s been training during the pause, which I’m sure he has, he could be ready to make a name for himself int he playoffs, a la Patrick Roy or Felix Potvin, who came out of nowhere to carry their team deep into the playoffs in their rookie season. Roy helped the Montreal Canadiens to a Stanley Cup Championship in 1986 and Potvin carried the Toronto Maple Leafs all the way to Game 7 of the Campbell Conference Final before losing to Wayne Gretzky’s Los Angeles Kings.
Can the King Come Back?
That’s a question that’s been thrown around Manhattan for a couple of years now. Lundqvist will no doubt be in the Hall of Fame. He’s often carried the team on his back and he’s taken them deep into the playoffs when most thought they didn’t have a chance.
If it weren’t for the Kings overtime heroics in 2014, the Rangers would’ve had their first Cup in 20 years. However, the Kings won in five games although three of the five went to overtime. The series was much closer than it might seem on paper. Henrik still has one thing left to prove; he might be 38 years old but don’t think he’s letting anything slip.
On the surface it might not seem like the Rangers have much of a chance to go deep into the 24-team playoff, however, after taking a longer look it appears they just could surprise a lot of people around the league if they can get everything to click. Will Panarin, Zibanejad, Kreider, solid team-defense, and the three-headed goalie monster be enough to make it happen? We’ll have to wait until the end of July or August to find out.