The New York Rangers evened their best-of-seven first-round series versus the Pittsburgh Penguins with a 5-2 win in Game 2 on May 5. Unlike in the first game of the series, the Rangers took care of business during regulation to prevent a consecutive game from being decided in a potential multi-overtime. Despite not having regulars Barclay Goodrow and Ryan Lindgren in the lineup, they did not appear to miss a beat as Dryden Hunt and Justin Braun stepped in after being healthy scratches for Game 1.
The Rangers will need to maintain their intensity with the next two contests being in Pittsburgh. The PPG Paints Arena will be rocking and they will need to weather the storm of the Penguins’ home crowd to have a chance of winning at minimum one game on the road before the series shifts back to Madison Square Garden for Game 5. Let’s take a look at some keys to success for the Rangers to win Game 3.
Rangers Need Contributions From Several Players on Offense
Artemi Panarin and Frank Vatrano did not have any goals or assists during the Game 1 loss to accompany contributions from forwards Andrew Copp, Chris Kreider, Ryan Strome, Mika Zibanejad, and defenseman Adam Fox. Zibanejad was the only player of the seven to not contribute a point in Game 2. The more players who can contribute steady production for the Rangers, the better off they will be in terms of their chances of winning Game 3.
Before Kreider’s unbelievable 52-goal season, Panarin was viewed as the Rangers’ biggest offensive threat and he is being paid like their top player with an average annual value (AAV) of $11.642 million and a no-movement clause (NMC) in the contract he signed with them before the 2019-20 season. His 74 assists in 2021-22 were the most from a Rangers forward all-time and trailed only former defensemen Brian Leetch and Sergei Zubov for the most in franchise history during a single year. Kreider has continued his career season early in the first-round series with two goals and an assist in the first two games.
Copp has a goal in each of the two games while Vatrano added a goal and two assists during the Game 2 win. If Alexis Lafreniere can provide offense from the bottom six, that will benefit the Rangers especially if Panarin, Copp, Kreider, or Zibanejad have an off night. The more contributions they have throughout their four lines, the better off they will be in terms of advancing past the Penguins.
Shesterkin Needs to Maintain His MVP Play On the Road
Igor Shesterkin has been the heart and soul of the Rangers in 2021-22 and is the favorite to win the Vezina Trophy and Hart Trophy as well. He made an astounding 79 saves against the Penguins in the Game 1 loss that went to triple overtime and followed that up with 39 saves in the Game 2 victory. The netminder needs to continue his dominance on the road in Game 3 despite his limited postseason experience in three seasons with the franchise. For as impressive as he has been in three years with them, Game 3 will mark only his fourth career game during the playoffs.
The experienced core of the Penguins which includes Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang, will look to take advantage of Shesterkin’s inexperience on their home ice. The Rangers’ netminder has faced an incredible 124 shots during the first two games and while he usually plays better with the more shots he faces, there is concern that he looked fatigued during the early part of Game 2. He has maintained his composure and battled through the plethora of shots he has faced in two playoff games.
Brian Boucher, who played for the Philadelphia Flyers during a five-overtime game win against the Penguins in Game 4 of a Semifinal series during the 2000 Stanley Cup Playoffs, is not concerned about Shesterkin saying, “Shesterkin played 53 games this year. That’s a good number heading into the playoffs. If you’re up in the 60s and then you start off the playoffs with a game like that, maybe you’re more concerned. But he’s in a good place, and you can see that from the way he played Game 2. He’s also not really too wild in net. You’d maybe have some concerns if Shesterkin was a goalie who carried a lot of nervous energy out there, but he’s pretty calm and pretty focused. Guys like that can withstand a long game better than some more jittery goalies” (from ‘Will Rangers’ Igor Shesterkin hit a wall? Past marathon-game goalies weigh in, The Athletic, 5/7/22).
To echo Boucher’s point, Shesterkin does a good job of remaining focused even if he is having a rough game, as there was a brief period during the second half of the season when he was not playing that well. He managed to bear down and work his way out of his mini-slump. He is the player that Rangers fans should have the most confidence in during the playoffs, as he has been steady and reliable more than any other player on the roster. He needs to continue his incredible year on the road beginning in Game 3 and there is a likelihood he will do so.
The Rangers certainly have the depth with their roster additions at the trade deadline to make a deep playoff run. Goodrow, Lindgren, and Tyler Motte are regulars that have been injured, and depth players such as Hunt and Braun have filled in well after they were healthy scratches during Game 1. Goodrow will remain out for the remainder of the first-round series according to head coach Gerard Gallant and the speedy Motte has yet to return after being injured during the regular season. Braun may be needed to fill in for the 24-year-old Lindgren again while Braden Schneider and K’Andre Miller are two young defensemen who can make their presences felt with reliable play during the playoffs. If Shesterkin remains elite and they have contributions from enough of their core forwards, in addition to depth players such as Copp, Lafreniere, and Vatrano, the Rangers will have a good chance of earning a victory in Game 3.