Beware of the New York Rangers in these NHL Playoffs

MIKA ZIBANEJAD
Zibanejad finishes the Isles in OT (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

When the NHL’s Return to Play Committee finalized and voted on the 24 Team Tournament, it was met with some criticism but also a overwhelming seal of approval. The plan was approved by the NHLPA by a vote of 29-2 with the two dissenting teams being the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Carolina Hurricanes.

As Phase 3 Training Camps start to wind down, more and more pundits are weighing in on the playoffs. Yesterday, TSN’s Craig Button said that the East should “fear the Rangers” , and selected them as his sleeper team.

New York Rangers: NHL Dark Horse

The New York Rangers are coming in as the 11th seed in the East. They were also one of the hottest teams down the stretch and were within a point of the Wild Card at the Pause. Head coach David Quinn got his young team to turn the corner on January 31st and they went 14-7-1 when play was suspended.

Zibanejad ready to lead (Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)

This team has all the makings of being a dark horse with Artemi Panarin leading them in scoring at 95 points. His play has made him a finalist for the Ted Lindsay Award and the Hart Trophy.

NY also had the hottest goalie going down the stretch in phenom, Igor Shesterkin. The 24 year-old “Czar of NY” had a record of 10-2 in 12 games with a 2.52 GAA and a whopping .932 SV%. He did so in impressive fashion earning a 7 game winning streak that included a 5-2 win against Carolina. He also faced over 40 shots in 5 of his 12 starts, winning every single contest.

Complaining Carolina

Let’s talk about the Carolina Hurricanes, the team that voted no and even had their head coach Rod Brind’Amour crying about fairness. They are an extremely talented team led by Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov that play a very disciplined game focused on puck possession.

That’s important because they don’t have good goaltending. Now why did they vote no? Was it really about fairness? Or could it be that they lost all 4 games to the Rangers this year and have gone 2-10 against the Blueshirts in the last three seasons.

The big difference for Carolina coming in is that their banged up defense is healthier. However, Dougie Hamilton has missed the last few practices and his status is in question. Regardless, even if the Canes were fully healthy I’d have a hard time picking them against the Blueshirts.

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Win the Qualifying Round and go from there

This is a series that could go the full five, but it is more likely to be a sweep for the Rangers if the Canes goaltending issues continue. If the Rangers do get by the Hurricanes as I expect, they stand a great chance of going all the way. That is if they can avoid the one team in these playoffs they match up poorly against, the Boston Bruins.

Why can they go the distance? Aside from Panarin and Shesterkin, the Rangers are actually very talented on defense with Tony DeAngelo who finished as the NHL’s fourth leading scorer among blue-liners. But the big name to watch for the Rangers is center Mika Zibanejad who scored a remarkable 41 goals in just 57 games including 14 in the team’s last 10 games.

Zibanejad and Panarin will lead the charge (Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The Rangers are young but have a nice blend of talented vets as well. Chris Kreider, Marc Staal, and Henrik Lundqvist are the three most senior veterans and have all lived through deep playoff runs in 2012, 2014, and 2015. Their locker-room presence will be key in guiding players like rookies Adam Fox and Kaapo Kakko as they navigate what could be an epic 19 win trail to the Cup.