The New York Rangers have clinched a playoff berth for the first time since 2017. All of the eight teams from the Eastern Conference have clinched a spot, but we don’t know the exact matchups yet, and it doesn’t look like we’ll know until after game 82. The Blueshirts currently sit in second place in the Metropolitan Division and would face Sydney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins if the season ended today. However, that’s likely to change; considering the logjam in the East, they could play the Boston Bruins.
Related: Rangers Beat Potential Postseason Foes in Weekend Sweep
There are three things the Rangers should focus on going into Saturday’s matinee against the Bruins.
Trouba, Goodrow & Others to Set the Physical Tone
This will be the third game against the Bruins this season, and the Rangers have won the first two. They won 5-2 back in November and 2-1 in a lengthy shootout on Feb. 15. Igor Shesterkin was the goaltender of record for both games. The Blueshirts have already set a tone against the Bruins but should look to cement it further Saturday.
They need to set the standard for how the series will be played. They’ll need to make it hard for players like Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron to find room on the ice and make plays. The game is in Boston, so they won’t have the luxury of always getting their desired matchups, so whoever is on the ice will need to do their part. Players like Barclay Goodrow, Andrew Copp and Chris Kreider need to finish checks in the offensive zone, while Ryan Reaves (if he’s in the lineup) and Jacob Trouba need to play their typical physical style all around. Everyone needs to close gaps and reduce time and space. The fourth line in the Rangers’ last game was Dryden Hunt, Kevin Rooney and Reaves. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them slotted in that role on Saturday; my THW colleague Matt Grazel also thinks so.
Panarin, Zibanejad, Fox & Kreider Need to Shine
The Rangers’ top offensive talents like Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Adam Fox, with the help of Kreider, should put their foot on the gas and bury the Bruins. Panarin led the way with a goal, including what turned out to be the game-winner and an assist in the first game, while Fox added two assists. In the second game against them, Panarin, Zibanejad, Kreider and Fox were kept off of the score sheet. However, Panarin and Zibanejad scored two of the three Rangers’ goals in the shootout before K’Andre Miller notched the winner.
The “big four” should be looking to have a “big game” and show their offensive dominance in the last of three this season against the Bruins. A demoralizing offensive juggernaut is exactly what the Rangers need to help set the tone moving forward.
Shesterkin or Georgiev Need to Shut the Door
Whoever plays in net Saturday needs to be sharp and make key saves against the Bruins. The more frustrated their offense gets, the better, heading into the playoffs. Frustrating the entire team, especially Marchand, with a tight-checking approach and making big saves when needed can lead to stupid penalties and goals by the Rangers’ strong power play. Getting into the Bruins’ heads now can have a lasting effect through Round 1.
Shesterkin, who’s had a Vezina Trophy-like season as the NHL’s best goalie, is on a heater. He’s even moved into possible Hart Trophy consideration as league MVP. He has three shutouts in his last five games and has only given up four goals. Rangers’ backup Alexandar Georgiev played in Thursday’s 6-3 win over their cross-town rival New York Islanders. In the game he played before that, he recorded a shutout. Since Georgiev started Thursday, it might be Shesterkins’ turn. However, head coach Gerard Gallant may choose to rest him and get him ready to carry the load during the playoffs. Either way, it’s a good situation.
Rangers Need to Put a Stamp on It
Putting a stamp on the final game of the season series against the Bruins is important for the Rangers heading into the playoffs, whether they’ll meet them or not. They need to come out and set a physical tone while putting the throttle down offensively. It’s also important to stifle the Bruins’ offense this close to the playoffs, which will affect momentum into the first round should the two teams meet and beyond.