Rangers’ New ‘Heartbeat Line’ Could be Key to Knocking Off Hurricanes

For at least one game, and maybe only two, the New York Rangers have new Heartbeat Line. If the club is able to somehow find a way past the Carolina Hurricanes into the Eastern Conference Final, it’s very possible that the freshly-minted trio will have played an integral role – and would represent a major asset for the Blueshirts going forward.

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The fourth forward unit of Tyler Motte, Barclay Goodrow and Ryan Reaves that came together just before puck drop for Saturday night’s Game 6 of this thrilling second-round series was the embodiment of emotion and determination that showed all over the ice, sparking the Rangers to a 5-2 victory at raucous Madison Square Garden and into a Game 7 at Raleigh on Monday.

Barclay Goodrow New York Rangers
Rangers forward Barclay Goodrow (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The inspirational and unexpected return of Goodrow, playing his first game in 25 days after suffering what was believed to be a broken ankle in the first round against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Motte’s focus amidst personal tragedy and Reaves’ usual fire appeared, for a game at least, to have helped the Rangers stave off an early start to summer. It also gave them their most formidable fourth line in a season in which coach Gerard Gallant has tinkered as he’s searched for the perfect combination for the assignment.

The coach might have finally found exactly what he was looking for in the waning days of May – a line that not only lifted the team with its commitment to the task at hand of extending the season, but showcased the potential for what’s possible should the Rangers manage to keep on going.

Goodrow-Motte-Reaves Evokes Memories of Effective Fourth Lines Past

Goodrow, the pain from his injury and fatigue from lack of conditioning often evident on his face, gutted out 18 shifts and more than 13 minutes of ice time, blocking two shots (blocking one against Pittsburgh is what reportedly caused his injury), killing penalties, finishing plus-1 and winning seven of 14 faceoffs.

Motte, who revealed the recent death of his fiancee’s grandmother in a postgame interview, pointed to the sky and had moist eyes after opening the scoring 7:22 into the first period. That goal was hardly his only contribution, as he posted a plus-1 rating and delivered three hits in 14 minutes, using his speed to continue the disruptive play he’s provided since returning from an upper-body injury for Game 6 against the Penguins.

“A couple of days ago my fiancee’s grandmother passed away. I spent yesterday in Michigan going to a service and just being with them,” said Motte, whose eyes welled up again during the interview. “To have (a goal), it was special. Some of that family is in the building here. It just felt like I had a little help that’s all.”

Reaves recorded three more hits, was physical all night and performed his usual duties in the waning moments of the game, engaging with Brendan Smith and Jesperi Kotkaniemi and then charging at both players, who were saved by officials separating the parties after the final horn as the chirping exceeded Reaves’ tolerance level.

Emotion is the fuel of playoff hockey. Motte, Goodrow and Reaves provided it to their teammates, who forced their fifth game in which they’ll face elimination in this postseason. If Goodrow, who supplanted Kevin Rooney at center, can go again in Game 7, Gallant seems sure to keep the trio intact as the Rangers attempt the daunting task of dealing the Hurricanes their first home loss of the playoffs.

Related: Rangers Won’t Advance Past Hurricanes Without a Panarin Resurgence

While Rooney has been effective for the Rangers in his two years in a Blueshirt, he’s not the battle-tested Goodrow, a crucial piece for the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning of the past two seasons who is now providing an example of the sacrifice and commitment required to win a championship – even though Gallant had initially him out when talking to the media Friday.

“I was surprised, but I was very happy for him,” said rising forward Filip Chytil, who scored twice as he continues what the Rangers hope will be a breakout postseason. “I think he made a huge difference for us in this game. He’s a great player for our team. Of course, he helped us a lot and it’s great to see him back.” (From ‘Barclay Goodrow’s Return Pleasant Surprise for Rangers’, New York Post, 5/29/22)

Ryan Reaves New York Rangers
Rangers winger Ryan Reaves (Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)

This line represents a throwback to the ones that played integral roles in the Rangers reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2014 and Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final the following year. Grinding, speedy, combative and perhaps most importantly, versatile – Goodrow and Motte are two of the team’s top penalty killers – it evokes memories of the Dominic Moore-Brian Boyle-Derek Dorsett/Dan Carcillo grouping in 2014 and the Moore-James Sheppard-Tanner Glass triumvirate of 2015. Those lines were tailor-made for impacting a playoff series, and the Blueshirts’ current fourth line has as good a chance to play a significant such role as well.

New Fourth Line Likely to Be a Short-Term Union

This formation is exactly what general manager Chris Drury envisioned when he began going about the task of toughening up the Rangers after last season – three dynamic, hard-edged players forging the kind of bottom-six forward unit that teams absolutely need in the crucible of the NHL playoffs. The trio spent only 11:25 together during the regular season, but posted a 73 percent Corsi for mark over those five games.

Comprised of three players who weren’t on the roster last season – and in Motte’s case, before March 21 – the question is whether the group can have enough of an impact in two games against Carolina to earn itself a chance to influence a full series. This stands to be a two-game experiment if the Rangers can’t finally break through in Raleigh. How liberally will Gallant be able to deploy the three players Monday, given Goodrow’s physical limitations?

Tyler Motte New York Rangers
Tyler Motte seems likely to depart as a free agent after the season (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Even if the Rangers advance, Motte’s time on Broadway is likely to be fleeting. The pending unrestricted free agent, acquired just before the trade deadline from the Vancouver Canucks for a 2023 fourth-round pick, is likely to command plenty of interest on the open market, with a raise from his $1.2 million annual salary all but a certainty. Drury, facing a significant cap crunch over the next two seasons, would have to pull off some serious magic to keep Motte in a Rangers sweater next season.

For now, the Rangers boast the kind of asset that played a significant role in their Stanley Cup-contending days of seven years ago – and might be able to serve as a short-term version of the New York Islanders’ Identity Line of Cal Clutterbuck, Casey Cizikas and Matt Martin that’s been so crucial to that organization’s rise. What will be Gallant’s plan for the line at PNC Arena, where Carolina has the last change? If Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour elects to keep his top lines away from Motte, Goodrow and Reaves, can they dominate their matchup with one of Carolina’s bottom two forward units enough to be a difference-maker in Game 7?

The Rangers would sure like more than two games to find out just how effective this new union can be.