‘Little things’ help propel Rangers in opener against Hurricanes

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Carolina Hurricanes at New York Rangers
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Not every reason the New York Rangers defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 4-3 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Second Round on Sunday is as obvious as others. But those subtle plays can be just as important.

It’s easy to look at the series opener and point to Mika Zibanejad’s splendid two-goal, three-point output as a difference maker. Or Vincent Trocheck scoring a goal for the fourth straight game. Or Artemi Panarin netting his third game-winning goal already in these playoffs. Or that the Rangers were perfect on both ends of the special teams, 2-for-2 on the power play and 5-for-5 on the penalty kill.

Yet, the Rangers also did a lot of little things well in taking a 1-0 lead in the best-of-7 series.

“You can look at a ton of small areas that may not show up on the scoresheet, but the backchecking was great, the team defending was, as well,” Rangers captain Jacob Trouba said after practice Monday. “[Alexis Lafreniere] sliding, blocking shots. Guys buying in, doing the dirty stuff.

“Everyone’s doing the little things that aren’t the most loved, but are in the room and on the bench and by the team.”

Related: Vincent Trocheck credits fans for ‘balls to the wall’ play by Rangers in opener

Rangers doing what it takes to ‘win this time of year’

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Carolina Hurricanes at New York Rangers
Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Though the Hurricanes had several shifts cycling deep in the Rangers end for extended periods, New York did a very good job limiting scoring chances during those times, as well as simply limiting how often those times occurred. The Blueshirts also did an excellent job holding down the amount of shots the high-volume Hurricanes pumped at goalie Igor Shesterkin.

Carolina had only 12 shots on goal in the first two periods and 25 for the game. The scoring chances 5v5 favored Carolina 20-12, though the high-danger chances were 6-3 in New York’s favor, per Natural Stattrick. It got scrambly late when the Hurricanes surged with goalie Frederik Andersen pulled for the extra attacker, but, by and large, the Rangers did an excellent job controlling the Hurricanes.

The Rangers third and fourth lines out-chanced the Hurricanes, in part because they got in on the forecheck and spent less time in their own zone. New York’s bottom six held an 8-4 advantage in scoring chances.

While the Hurricanes did a good job whipping the puck around, the Rangers defended well by largely keeping shots outside of high-danger areas and by blocking 28 shots in the game. Trouba led New York with six blocks and third-line forward Kaapo Kakko had three.

Every Rangers skater had at least one blocked shot except for Panarin, Will Cuylle, Matt Rempe and Jack Roslovic.

“They just fire a lot of pucks from the exterior and we’re going to have to get in front of them. A lot of them are just kind of hoisted in there and wristed in there. The ones we can knock down, we’ll knock down,” Rangers coach Peter Laviolette said Monday. “I thought we were really good five-on-five.”

Trouba also added five hits, second on the Rangers behind Cuylle, who had six. In a a pretty physical game with immediate hostilities and dislike, each team was credited with 31 hits.

What the Rangers had to like here is that they initiated the hitting as much as responded to it.

Though there are details they want to clean up and get better at, there was a lot to like — from big things to small — for the Rangers in their Game 1 win.

“That’s what makes you win this time of year,” Trouba said.

Jim Cerny is Executive Editor at Forever Blueshirts and Managing Editor at Sportsnaut, with more than 30 years of... More about Jim Cerny

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