It wasn't pretty. It wasn't easy. Hell after being down 3-1 in the series and trailing in each elimination game it wasn't likely. Still, the Blueshirts found a way to hang tough and dispose of the Penguins on their way to the second round. Talk whatever shit you wanna talk about them but fact of the matter is, winning any playoff series is an accomplishment especially for a young squad entering their contention window. Just ask the Maple Leafs or Wild. The Rangers resiliency should be commended no matter how inexplicable their advancing might seem. With the Carolina Hurricanes up next though, another "inexplicable" round simply isn't gonna cut it.
Carolina has been the big bad wolf of sorts in recent years. Everyone remembers the Rangers getting absolutely rag-dolled in the bubble. Fast-forward to this past regular season and the Canes are the only Eastern playoff team NY had a losing record against. Carolina took 3 of 4 contests that ended up the difference for the Metro crown and their lone L (a 44-save Georgiev shutout) was probably their most dominant effort of them all. Compared to the Pittsburgh squad that took the Blueshirts to Game 7 OT these bunch of jerks are deeper, faster and much harder to play against while in the collective primes of their careers. They've won a playoff series for the fourth straight year and look ready to push much deeper with their best team yet.
The only players the Canes didn't bully throughout this season were the Zibanejad line with Trouba & Miller. Everyone else got WORKED. Fox & Lindgren were a combined -8 in four games while Brind'Amour made sure his crew took full advantage whenever Gallant rolled out his 4th line or bottom pair. Rod the Bod's lineup is matchup-proof. If there's a shred of hope Goodrow can return this series then a 4th line of Motte/Rooney/Goody might be a bottom six option the Rangers are confident in holding their own - but The Kid Line is gonna be thoroughly tested. In the first round they found some success against the Pens bottom six but Carolina's third line of Niederreiter/Staal/Fast is a grizzled, heavy, relentless trio for anyone to handle let alone a line comprised of a 20, 21 & 22 year old. Assuming Staal gets matched up against Zib or Strome then you're banking on Lafreniere/Chytil/Kakko to tangle with either Aho/Svech or Trocheck/Teravainen. Yikes.
If the Blueshirts are gonna pull off a monumental upset they're gonna have to play some big boy hockey. Carolina is a much more physical opponent. They swarm. They're suffocating. They don't stop and it's because of this pressure they led Round 1 in takeaways - by far. I'll give you one guess who led in giveaways - by far. It goes without saying that Shesterkin will undoubtedly need to be the MVP if his squad has Conference Final plans. But if NY can't remain composed and much more responsible with the puck despite red bullets firing at them from every direction, then this most likely won't be much of a contest even if Igor pulls off an Oettinger-esque performance. Elite goalies can steal you a series as long as their own team isn't playing against them too.
The Rangers top dogs will all have to be in peak form. Game 6 & 7 Zibanejad has to keep rolling and when he goes, so does Kreider. Panarin has gotta shake whatever's had him looking like a shell of himself and not only produce more but show some ability to slow down an opposition that's much more dangerous than the Penguins he struggled against. If those three along with Fox on the back end are piling up the points then the Blueshirts have a shot - and considering how often the Canes are in the box along with how poorly their PK was against Boston - it doesn't necessarily have to be 5x5. NY can still lose that battle yet win the war as long as they're cashing in every 3-4 PP chances. As has been the case all year long, all the Rangers have to do is avoid getting steamrolled 5x5 and they'll be in most games. Whether or not they can pull it off against arguably the East's most complete team remains to be seen.
Am I excited? Hell yeah. Confident? I mean I'm as confident as any fan of a team with a puncher's chance. If the Blueshirts can steal one of the first two from an absolutely dominant home team then there's a realistic shot at holding serve and taking down the series in 6. The later the series goes though, the harder it's gonna be to win in Carolina. So my best-case homer prediction is Rangers in 6 but man, this is a tough matchup for an overall young NY group. Tougher than run-and-gun FLA or a Point-less TB with a ton of mileage on them. They've been underestimated since October though and if you think this will be a cakewalk for the Canes, you're in for a hell of a surprise.
So let's play some fucking big boy hockey.
VIVA LA BLUESHIRTS!!!!!!!