Overcoming adversity nothing new for these New York Rangers

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Carolina Hurricanes at New York Rangers
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers ended the regular season boasting a staggering franchise record of 55 wins through 82 games. An impressive feat considering they came into this year with a myriad of question marks hanging over them after a disappointing end to the 2022-23 campaign, suffering a first-round ouster by the New Jersey Devils.

There were accusations that the core was getting too old, and criticism of their development of high-end draft picks like Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko. Meanwhile, the Blueshirts best offensive player, Artemi Panarin, was believed too soft for playoff hockey after registering just two assists in seven games against New Jersey.

It all changed the moment Gerard Gallant was let go and master tactician Peter Laviolette was hired as their new coach. Another indication that things would be different was Panarin showing up to training camp with a shaved head in a move to wipe out all the bad mojo from the previous season.

The end result was 114 points and winning the Presidents’ Trophy.

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New York Rangers have been overcoming adversity all season

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

To add the the Rangers’ accolades and franchise records this season, they set a team record for regular-season comeback wins with 28. Their most significant of these comebacks came on Feb. 18th when the Rangers surged to overcome 4-1 and 5-3 deficits against the New York Islanders at Metlife Stadium for a 6-5 OT victory.

During the course of the year, they played a multitude of playoff-style games, including 31 contests decided by one goal, winning 23 of them. In the Stanley Cup Playoffs, where every inch of ice matters, having this invaluable experience could do them wonders in tough situations and it did in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference Second Round series against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday.

Buoyed by Igor Shesterkin’s 54-save performance, the team overcame deficits of 2-1, and 3-2 before Chris Kreider tied it in the third period. When Vincent Trocheck banged home the double-overtime winner, it tied a franchise record for comeback victories in a single season (regular season and playoffs) at 31.

“Obviously, ‘Shesty’ played outstanding,” Trocheck said afterwards. “On the goal, I couldn’t tell you what happened. It went in.”

Overcoming injuries

The Rangers were built for overcoming adversity thanks to a number of serious injuries that promoted a next-man-up mentality. This started with the losses of both forward Filip Chytil, and defenseman Adam Fox in their Nov. 2 matchup against these very same Hurricanes.

Chytil, likely nursing another head injury, has been out ever since incidentally colliding with former Ranger Jesper Fast. Fox was hurt after Sebastian Aho stuck out his knee sidelining him for 10 games with a lower-body injury. These two tough losses immediately opened up gaping holes in the Rangers’ lineup, yet they continued to persevere, winning seven of their next 10 games.

Kappo Kakko also left a large hole open on the right-wing after sustaining an injury on Nov. 27 in a 5-1 loss at MSG to Buffalo. Then came 37-year-old Blake Wheeler’s lower-body injury, leaving the Rangers’ depth at wing to a skeleton crew. Yet, the winning never stopped as they received big contributions from Jonny Brodzinski, Matt Rempe, and trade-deadline acquisitions Jack Roslovic and Alex Wennberg.

Getting through a slump

On Dec. 30, the Rangers prevailed in a thumping win over the Tampa Bay Lightning buoyed by a hat trick from Panarin, but that was the last true highlight for the team over the next month of play.

Starting with a humbling 6-1 loss to the Hurricanes at MSG on Jan. 2, the Rangers fell into a rut while quickly approaching the All-Star Game checkpoint. Before the annual NHL spectacle, Shesterkin ranked 64th out of 75 goaltenders who played at least one game in January touting a ghastly .864 save percentage.

The defense seemed to be falling apart too, as New York was outscored 44-33 from Jan. 2-26, giving up approximately 3.38 goals against per game in that span. That was until the Rangers’ 7-2 statement win over the Ottawa Senators in Canada’s capital on Jan 27. For the first time since the calendar flipped to 2024, the Rangers flexed their muscles and went on to win 10 straight.

Now here they are, winners of six straight playoff games and looking to grab a 3-0 stranglehold against the Hurricanes on Thursday. The Blueshirts have become a well-balanced machine that no matter what the score or situation is, they’ll overcome it.

“We believe in each other,” Barclay Goodrow said on Wednesday. “It started right from Day 1 here and kind of just continued. I think it just comes from having a lot of trust in our teammates.”

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