With the Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup Qualifier series against the New York Rangers set to begin Saturday, we’re teaming up with our sister site, Blueshirt Banter to preview the series. Deputy editor Mike Murphy was kind enough to answer five questions about how the teams match up.
Stay tuned for my answers to Mike’s questions later today.
1. Is there enough depth past Panarin and Zibanejad?
It’s no secret that the Rangers have a top-heavy forward group and are thin down the left side on the blue line. Chris Kreider will be back in the lineup for the series after recovering from the foot injury he sustained shortly after the team extended him. Kreider is a play-driving winger who brings a lot of speed to the lineup. He’s also statistically one of the best net-front presences in the league. Him being healthy for this series is a big deal; it ensures that the Rangers will have two lines that are a real threat to score.
With that being said, the bottom-six is pretty underwhelming even though it’s filled with players who are brimming with potential. The Rangers have a lot of kids in the lineup and none of them have playoff experience.
2. How weird is it to go into a playoff series without Henrik Lundqvist as the starter? How long a leash will Shesterkin have?
I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty damn weird.
What makes it more complicated is that Lundvist has a history of being simply outstanding in the postseason. His regular season numbers leave a lot to be desired (.905 save percentage), but his overall performance behind a deeply flawed defense has been solid if not downright admirable. Still, the Rangers were a significantly more successful team when Shesterkin took over. The numbers speak for themselves here. He’s the logical choice even if it feels a little bit like we’re betraying the closest thing to a recognized monarch we’ve seen in New York since the tyrant King George.
As for the leash – it’s tough to say. Once he established himself during the season, the crease was his to lose until he was injured in a car accident. If Igor has a “bad” Game 1 I expect David Quinn to give him the start in Game 2 unless there’s an injury issue. But if he has two rough outings, there’s no way he should get the nod in Game 3 – especially because it’s the second game in a back-to-back and there are two very good alternatives in Lundqvist and Alexandar Georgiev waiting in the wings.
3. Who is an under the radar player on the team who could make a big impact in this series?
Russian winger Pavel Buchnevich.
Buchnevich is not a household name to many NHL fans, but he’s carved out a nice role for himself in New York as a scoring line winger over the past few seasons. His vision and puck skills make him a perfect fit on the “KZB” line with Kreider and Zibanejad, which was the Rangers’ best line before Artemi Panarin joined the team. He also moves the puck very well and tends to make things happen on the second power play unit.
The other name that warrants mention here – for a few reasons – is Adam Fox. Fox, of course, was traded to the Rangers by Carolina prior to the season. He picked the wrong year to be an outstanding rookie defenseman, because he’s been overshadowed by Calder finalists Quinn Hughes and Cale Makar. Fox frequently looked like the Rangers best d-man, which is both a good and a bad thing. One way or another, he will be a factor in this series. He’s that good.
4. What do the Rangers need to do to win this series?
In my opinion, this will all come down to goaltending and what Shesterkin can do to cover for the inevitable gaffes of the defenders playing in front of him. The Hurricanes have a great blue line and mediocre goaltending. The Rangers have great goaltending and a mediocre defense. Fun, right?
Another major wrinkle here is that the Rangers are going to be counting on quality outweighing quantity in shots and scoring chances. Every knows that the Hurricanes are going to dominate the shot share at 5-on-5 – that is kinda what you guys do and it’s kinda what the Rangers don’t do. So, if the Rangers’ big weapons can generate enough high-quality chances to counteract all of Carolina’s puck possession, the Blueshirts can win this series in five games. It also wouldn’t hurt if the power play was as effective against the Canes as it was in the season series.
5. Give us five Rangers centric Twitter accounts Canes fans should follow for this series?
I have decided to cheat and just give you the Twitter handles of the @BlueshirtBanter crew: