Rangers top 6 must step up in order to close out Hurricanes

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Carolina Hurricanes
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers are treading dangerous waters after losing Games 4 and 5 of the Eastern Conference Second Round to the Carolina Hurricanes. Now, traveling back to Carolina, they will need a huge performance from their top-six forwards in Game 6 on Thursday if they want to capitalize on their third chance to close out the series.

In the first round of the playoffs and the first three games of Round 2, the Rangers top six were firing on all cylinders. The top line of Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad and Jack Roslovic was playing some of its best hockey since Roslovic was acquired prior to the trade deadline in March. Zibanejad was among the League’s postseason scoring leaders, Kreider was continuing to provide offense, and Roslovic was good for a point per game.

The second line of Artemi Panarin, Vincent Trocheck and Alexis Lafreniere continued to prove why they are one of the best trios in the NHL. Trocheck had a five-game goal streak. Panarin had four game-winning goals, including one in double OT against the Hurricanes. And Lafreniere had three goals in a span of two games against the Hurricanes.

In Games 4 and 5, the top six seem to have vanished. Shut down 5v5 and on the power play, the Rangers now face Game 6 on the road. If they lose a third straight game, it will be back to New York for Game 7.

“A little bit back on our heels I think,” mentioned Jacob Trouba after the 4-1 loss in Game 5. “In that situation, probably make more plays, get more on our toes, play more in the offensive zone. Just kind of get back to our game. I thought we let it come to us a little bit instead of taking the game to them.”

Related: Rangers can feel desperation level rising against Hurricanes

Rangers need stars to shine in Game 6 against Hurricanes

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

The Rangers cannot afford for their top six to go cold. If they want to advance and have continued success, they need to keep scoring at the rate of the first seven games of these playoffs.

First seven games (7-0)

Zibanejad: 3G-9A – 12Pts Panarin: 4G-5A – 9Pts
Kreider: 4G-3A – 7Pts Trocheck: 5G-7A – 12Pts
Roslovic: 2G-3A – 5Pts Lafreniere: 3G – 6A – 9Pts

Past two games (0-2)

Zibanejad: 0G-1A – 1Pt Panarin: 0G-0A – 0Pts
Kreider: 0G-0A – 0Pts Trocheck: 0G-0A – 0Pts
Roslovic: 0G-0A – 0Pts Lafreniere: 1G-0A – 1Pt

With just two points combined from the top six in the past two games, it is no secret why the Rangers have now lost two straight. They need their big-time players to perform in the big-time games. It is bad enough to have this kind of performance in two consecutive playoff games, but it is even worse to have them in two consecutive series-clinching games.

Their issues are not just offensive production either. Panarin, for example, is minus-5 the past two games and was beaten badly by Evgeny Kuznetsov for the eventual game-winning goal in Game 5.

However, all season the Rangers have responded well to poor performances. They will need to do that once again in Game 6.

“I know that this group has had games like (Game 5) before, and they responded,” explained coach Peter Laviolette. “There’s accountability that goes with that, from themselves, and us, and what we bring. There’s things we need to do better, and we’ll look to do that.”

If the Rangers want to advance to the Eastern Conference Final, their top six needs to regain form, and quickly. Not only do they need to get it done at even strength, but they need to ignite the power play (0-for-11) as well.

After surrendering 2-0 series leads and losing in the 2022 Eastern Conference Final and the 2023 first round, all the pressure is on New York to close out what was once a 3-0 series lead. It is up to the stars to shine once again, and put this series to bed.

Dane Walsh is a life-long fan of the New York Rangers. Growing up in the tri-state area, Dane has... More about Dane Walsh

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