The New York Rangers completed the 3-1 series comeback against the Pittsburgh Penguins on May 15 in dramatic fashion with a 4-3 overtime win. The home crowd at Madison Square Garden erupted in celebration with the realization that the organization they support will continue its season during the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs beginning on May 18 versus the Carolina Hurricanes. During Games 6 and 7, core players in Mika Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin, Adam Fox, Igor Shesterkin, and Chris Kreider answered the challenge of putting the franchise in a position to win the first-round series.
The Rangers’ core continued to have an impact during the first round as they had during the regular season. If any of the five players had a good or bad game, their influence was noticeable on the result such as when Shesterkin and the team’s defense did not play well during Games 3 and 4 due to allowing several goals during one period in both contests. Let’s revisit my Rangers Win Game 7 If… piece to see if any of my points were significant to the deciding game of the series.
Zibanejad and Kreider Are Reliable When it Counts
Zibanejad (2 goals, 2 assists), Kreider (2 goals), and Fox (4 assists) were significant to the outcome working in the Rangers’ favor as they dominated Game 6. Zibanejad was the only key offensive player who did not contribute a goal before Game 6 for them. During Game 7, he finished with the most points of any player on the team as he had the tying goal which sent the contest into overtime and his two assists were on the first and the game-winning goals. He was the difference-maker and if not for his play during Games 6 and 7, they arguably do not defeat the Penguins.
Zibanejad commented on the team’s drive to continue its season beyond the first-round series, “Like I’ve been repeating, like everyone’s been repeating, we didn’t want the season to end. This has been our team all year. No matter how the game goes, we stick together and we work and we know what we have in that locker room. We said before the third we didn’t have anything to save it for. Doing the little things to try to advance pucks and try to win the one-on-one battles that’s what we talked about. Obviously the intensity level and a little bit of desperation kicks in when the clock starts winding down” (from ‘Rangers’ Mika Zibanejad finally gets his big Garden moment,’ New York Post, 5/16/22).
Kreider made his presence known during Game 7 as well, as he tallied the first goal of the contest for the Rangers. He lived up to his reputation of being the team’s top goalscorer as he led them with five goals during seven postseason games. They will need all the offense they can get from him if they are to keep up with the Hurricanes’ offense during the second-round series.
Fox contributed an assist on the overtime goal by Panarin and he did not have as much of an offensive impact in comparison to his four assists during Game 6. However, his assist in Game 7 was crucial as he had at least one point in every game of the first-round series. He continues to be one of the best players in the NHL in terms of creating offensive chances due to his outstanding passing ability in the offensive zone.
Rangers’ Special Teams Could Have Been Better, Penguins Offense Shut Down at Even-Strength
Unlike in Game 6 when the Rangers shut down the Penguins’ power-play (PP), their penalty-kill (PK) allowed two goals and Evan Rodrigues scored a short-handed goal (SHG). They managed to prevent their opponents from scoring at five-on-five, which was critical in getting the Game 7 victory. If they did not have success in allowing goals at even-strength, there may have been a different outcome given that they allowed two PP goals and a short-handed goal.
Jake Guentzel, one of the top scorers during the first round of the postseason, contributed a power-play goal (PPG). Sidney Crosby only had an assist on Guentzel’s tally, while Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang did not contribute any points, which was significant to the Rangers winning the series. Aside from the game-winning overtime PP goal, the home club was lackluster with the man advantage. They were not great on special teams during Game 7 but won the game on the PP and by shutting down their opponents at even-strength.
Shesterkin and Copp Were Key Contributors in Game 7 for Rangers
Shesterkin had a third-straight solid game after being pulled during Games 3 and 4 on the road. His ability to work past his struggles during the next three games was another factor in why the Rangers are now moving onto the second round. Head coach Gerard Gallant and the roster have come to expect great play from him, “We expect him to be sharp, be strong. That’s why he’s a candidate for the MVP and for the Vezina Trophy. … He deserves it” (from ‘Igor Shesterkin’s resilience powers Rangers’ series comeback: ‘Mr. Reliable,’ New York Post, 5/15/22).
Before Shesterkin’s rough performances during Games 3 and 4 in which the team’s defense was partly at fault for his poor play, he posted a 79-save performance in a triple-overtime loss in Game 1. In regards to his toughness, Zibanejad commented, “He’s done that all year for us. He really gives us a chance to win every game. Obviously you don’t want to give [the opponent] too many chances, the Grade-A [opportunities].” Shesterkin performed like his usual reliable self during Games 5-7 as he led the team to success during 2021-22.
Andrew Copp played well during the first-round series as he finished with four goals and three assists and continues to be one of the biggest trade deadline additions of the 2021-22 season. He had a goal or an assist in six of the seven contests including two assists during the deciding Game 7. His performance besides the five core players will be vital to the success of the Rangers versus the Hurricanes during the second-round matchup.
The Rangers completed a tough comeback from a 3-1 series deficit against the Penguins in Game 7. They have a tough opponent in the Hurricanes who outplayed them during the regular season and are coming off of a series that went seven games against the Boston Bruins. If there is an aspect that works in their favor, it is that their second-round adversary did not win any games at the TD Garden during its first-round series.
However, the Hurricanes still have the advantage despite being without their starting goaltender in Frederik Andersen. Backup goalie and former Ranger, Antti Raanta, has proven to be a good starter with a strong forward and defensive core in front of him. The Rangers’ core players stepped up during Games 6 and 7 and they will need to be consistent in every game of the upcoming series to move on to the Eastern Conference Final.