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Behind Enemy Lines: New York Rangers’ window not closed yet

The playoff-bound Rangers make their final visit of the season to Raleigh tonight

NHL: New York Rangers at Florida Panthers Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers come into tonight’s game with the Carolina Hurricanes possessing one of the more potent attacks in the NHL. Second in the league with 216 goals on the season, the Rangers have been led by a breakout season from J.T. Miller, whose 49 points are good for most on the team, and a more familiar potent group of Blueshirts in Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan and Kevin Hayes, all of whom have 44 points or more on the season.

The list of significant contributors continues all of the way down the line, as the Rangers have ten players in all with 30 or more points for the year. This balanced offensive production has proved to be relentless, and has eased much of the strain that netminder Henrik Lundqvist has felt in previous seasons under a more defensive-minded approach.

Recently, the Rangers offense had cooled a bit, having scored two or fewer goals in 9 of their previous 11 games played. As a part of that stretch, the Rangers appeared to have corrected some of that sluggishness with a 5-2 victory on Tuesday against the Florida Panthers. We will see if the Hurricanes can mount a defensive effort which can suppress this attack further. It will surely take a tremendous effort.

In net for the Rangers, Lundqvist has continued what is likely to be a Hall of Fame career with a fairly pedestrian season relative to his career stat line. His current .913 save percentage would be good for the second worst of his career, only ahead of his .912 performance in the 2007-08 season. As he has grown older, the Rangers have also elected to provide him with more off nights this season, as Antti Raanta has received 18 starts already and has actually provided stellar play with a sparkling .925 save percentage of his own. Lundqvist is injured tonight, so Raanta will get the start, his first against the Canes this season.

Overall, the Rangers appear to have gotten the development from the few younger players the organization had going into the season as Miller, Hayes, and defenseman Brady Skjei have blossomed into front line caliber players. Along with a relatively healthy core, the Rangers, who appeared to be fading in terms of relevance after an early postseason exit last season and a loss of many draft assets over the past few season, now appear set to contend for the remainder of King Henrik’s productive seasons.

What to Watch For

  • For the Hurricanes, putting the puck in the net continues to be a challenge. Simply put, when given chances against Raanta, the Canes must make no mistake and bury their opportunities.
  • Defending the Rangers is obviously a tremendous challenge, but it is especially difficult of a team does not have quality depth. Tonight’s game will take a big effort from the third defensive pairing and the bottom six forwards for the Canes.
  • Per usual, being plus in special teams will be key for Carolina. The Rangers are middle of the pack in both Power Play (21st) and Penalty Kill (11th). The Canes need to scratch out an advantage here.