3 Keys for Rangers to Win Game 7

After demoralizing losses in Games 2 and 3, the New York Rangers have climbed out of their 3-1 hole and have forced a Game 7 to be played at MSG on Sunday night. All season the Rangers have been the comeback kids of the NHL, and their two straight wins have followed the exact same script.

The young Blueshirts have gone down 2-0 in both Games 5 and 6 before storming back with three of their own. Eventually, the Pittsburgh Penguins tied before the Rangers scored the go-ahead marker and added an empty-net tally for the win. Two must-win games, two come-from-behind, 5-3 wins.

For lack of better words, this series has been a dumpster fire. At times, it has seen brutal officiating, significant injuries (which no one wants to see), wild second periods, and offense galore. The Stanley Cup Playoffs provide us with the unexpected, and this series has been no different.

Ryan Strome New York Rangers
Ryan Strome, New York Rangers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

But for the Rangers to defend home ice and win a decisive Game 7, they will have to play a full 60 minutes of quality hockey. In Game 7, everything is different. Lapses will hinder your chances of success, and this youthful Rangers group has had way too many setbacks during the first six games. Let’s dive into the keys for the Rangers to advance to round two.

Winning the Net-Front Battles

The Rangers have been highly porous defensively over this series. They have been susceptible to the backdoor pass and have given the Penguins’ top players too much room with the puck. Gerard Gallant and his coaching staff will have to hammer home the idea of protecting “the house” or the area in front of the net to win a Game 7.

If the Rangers can eliminate the backdoor tap-ins and high-danger plays from Pittsburgh’s arsenal, they will be able to advance. The Rangers have surrendered 103 high-danger chances at 5-on-5 through six games, per Natural Stat Trick. In comparison, they have only generated 51. It isn’t rocket science; if the team eliminates that number of quality scoring chances, it drastically improves the chances of winning.

But the same can be said for the other side of the ice. The Rangers’ forwards must better get in front of the Penguins’ goal and create chaos. Chris Kreider made a living this season in front of the net, and he needs to make his presence felt there in Game 7. Win the net-front battle, and most of the time, you win the game. Game 7 will be no different.

A Vezina Performance From Igor Shesterkin

Igor Shesterkin has been the Rangers’ rock all year. When the group was struggling to find their game, he kept them alive, and when the Rangers started to roll, he was other-worldly. In the playoffs, he has been solid but hasn’t been the ungodly talent we saw through 82 games this season. He will need to be that for Game 7.

A brutal Games 3 and 4 skewed a lot of the numbers for everyone, but primarily for Shesterkin. He has been very solid in each of the last two games and will have to have his best performance of the series on Sunday night if the Rangers plan on advancing to the second round.

I speak for most Rangers fans when I say that the phrase, “Game 7,” makes us all think of Henrik Lundqvist and his heroics in those most significant moments. This is Shesterkin’s time for his first playoff moment. He can steal a game unlike anyone, and the Rangers will have a great chance at success if he plays the way fans have become accustomed to seeing.

His 3.82 goals-against average and .906 save percentage are not indicative of his play thus far. But a classic game from Shesterkin, and many “IGOR” chants in the final minutes, will be an excellent sign for the Rangers.

Have Special Special Teams

Special teams play has been a focal point of this series. The Rangers feature the third-best power play in the postseason thus far at 33.3 percent. When they needed a big goal in Game 6, the power play lit the spark. When they have required goals all year, that dangerous first unit has come up big again and again.

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Pittsburgh’s power play has been solid at 22.2 percent in the playoffs. They, too, possess an absurd amount of weaponry, especially if their captain, Sidney Crosby, is cleared for Game 7. Staying disciplined will be critical, and making the opposition pay for their mistakes will be crucial to victory.

Despite all the chaos that seemingly happens each game between the Penguins and Rangers, the two teams have been awarded 18 and 15 power plays. The Penguins’ total is tied for 11th out of 16 playoff teams, and the Rangers’ mark is 15th. Essentially, the referees have let the two teams play, despite having larger impacts on the other series they are officiating. With power-play chances coming less frequently in this series than in others, capitalizing on those chances is critical.

Game 7’s are what sports are made of. They are nerve-racking, exciting, and tumultuous, all in one. In the end, one team will advance, while the other wonders what could have been. But for the Rangers to be the team moving on, they must focus on these three keys.

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