The New York Rangers are slated to go up against the Carolina Hurricanes in the play-in round after the NHL announced that the league will move to a 24-team playoff format. New York managed to go 4-0 against Carolina during the 2019-20 regular season, but it will all come down to a five-game series between two teams that were separated by just two points in the standings. Artemi Panarin led the way for the Rangers with nine points in the four games against the Hurricanes this season, but which players from New York are the true x-factors in the upcoming series?
In recent playoff tries, the Rangers haven’t had that offensive and goal-hungry “superstar” player to carry them throughout the playoffs. Now, they have a real goal-scoring threat in Mika Zibanejad. The center will be one of the focal points for Carolina’s defense after he scored seven points against them this season. If Zibanejad gets going early for the Rangers, Carolina will find themselves in trouble defensively.
The Swede managed 41 goals in an astonishing 57 games, which was good enough for a team-high .72 goals per game. That number is enough to frighten any kind of defense. Zibanejad is a threat from anywhere on the ice, especially on the power play, and if he is finding the back of the net the Rangers will be tough to stop in the offensive zone as a whole.
Due to the emergence of Adam Fox, the stunning season from Panarin and the arrival of Kaapo Kakko, Filip Chytil has flown under the radar all season for New York. In his third season on Broadway, Chytil quietly managed to tie his career-high of 23 points in 15 fewer games played from when he scored the same amount of points in 2018-19. As the second-line center, he has a major role to play against Carolina.
Chytil’s efficiency on the offensive end will impact the space created for other offensive dynamos like Panarin and Zibanejad. If the 20-year-old can find success, it will create wonders for the Rangers’ offense. Out-performing Carolina’s lineup depth will be one of the keys for New York, and that all starts with how Chytil handles his first playoff appearance.
Even though Henrik Lundqvist has a chance to compete for the starting spot against Carolina, the job will most likely be given to impressive rookie Igor Shesterkin. If the young netminder plays similarly to how he performed in the regular season, Shesterkin can be the reason the Rangers run away with the series. The Russian goalie will look to carry New York after posting 10 wins in 12 games this season.
Shesterkin’s statistics from his short NHL sample are downright impressive. The rookie totaled a .932 save percentage and managed a 2.51 goals-against average. The 24-year-old could quite possibly be the most important Ranger on the ice in this series and possibly throughout the rest of the playoffs if the Rangers manage to advance. It’s clear that if Shesterkin plays to his full capacity, New York becomes near impossible to solve on the defensive end.
Related: Top 3 All-Time Rangers Goalies
New York and Carolina will be one of the more entertaining match-ups in the qualifying round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Both organizations are young, fast-paced teams that will surely provide the necessary entertainment from sports that has been needed over the last few months. This series should have eyes of fans from all around the league glued to their television screens.
Sophomore journalism major at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland. Business director and play-by-play broadcaster for WMUC Sports. Former intern for the Anton Media Group.