Rangers Recall: Depth, defense, 5-on-5 scoring lead way to start playoffs right

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Washington Capitals at New York Rangers
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers came into the Stanley Cup Playoffs as a huge favorite over their first-round opponent, the Washington Capitals. After a choppy penalty-filled first period, the Presidents’ Trophy winners settled down and asserted their dominance en route to a 4-1 victory in Game 1 of the best-of-7 series Sunday.

If the Blueshirts had any weaknesses coming into this series, it was their ability to defend off the rush, and their lack of 5-on-5 scoring during the regular season. On Sunday, none of that was a factor as the Rangers scored all their goals at even strength, and only allowed a fluky goal against that deflected off two sets of skates.

“You’re here to win games, so it’s obviously good to get the first one,” coach Peter Laviolette noted.

“The way we’ve scouted [the Capitals] is they are a little bit more low-event. Not so high on the offense, but it’s harder to generate (against them) as well. The game played out as we thought it would. We weren’t off the charts with chances, and we defended pretty good.”

Related: Matt Rempe says ‘I love them’ after scoring goal at The Garden

Rangers Recall: Depth, defense, 5-on-5 scoring in Game 1

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

Depth: Rempe-mania

One of the biggest factors in the Rangers win in Game 1 over the Capitals was their depth. Primarily, how strong the bottom-six was throughout the contest on both sides of the puck. New York exploded early in the second period with three goals in 2:06 that shook the building and put the Capitals on their heels, and the fourth line scored two of those goals.

Lovable rookie Matt Rempe converted a nice cross-crease feed by Jimmy Vesey to get the fans on their feet. Artemi Panarin followed that with a great goal off the forecheck just 33 seconds later, and Vesey capped the outburst thanks to Rempe causing chaos in the shooting lane.

“It was fantastic,” Panarin said through a translator. “Fans were going wild and we were on the bench ecstatic. It was just great to see that. Such an important goal for us.”

When Rempe finished his NHL postseason debut, the 21-year-old walked away with a solid stat line. In 8:33 of ice time, he registered a goal on two shots, with three hits and a +2 rating. Meanwhile, Vesey ended the night with a goal, an assist, two hits, and two shots. Fourth-line center Barclay Goodrow earned two assists, two hits and played a large role in helping New York’s penalty kill go a perfect 4-for-4.

The line earned all three Stars of the Game honors (Rempe 3, Goodrow 2, Vesey 1).

“It was unbelievable,” Rempe said of the Garden crowd. “I love them, I don’t want to let them down. I want to play my hardest every single game for them.”


This was a relatively easy game for Igor Shesterkin, who probably should’ve had a shutout except for a goal that went off a pair of skates less than six feet in front of him. He finished Game 1 stopping 20 of 21 shots (.952 save percentage) and was not called upon to make many spectacular saves.

Much of the credit goes to his defense. All five skaters on the ice committed to getting back in the zone and taking care of business. The Rangers will need to remain resolute in playing this way if they want to win the Stanley Cup.

5-on-5 Scoring

Three out of the four Rangers’ lines potted a goal in Game 1, which is a great sign. Despite the power play going 0 for 2, New York generated offense from their forecheck and defense to win this contest with very little stress.

Although the line of Alex Wennberg, Kaapo Kakko and Will Cuylle didn’t get on the board, they were strong in all three zones. That trio certainly has chemistry and will continue to give the Capitals fits for the remainder of this series.

Finally, the goal scored by Chris Kreider with 3:43 remaining in the game was as meaningful as the three tallies in the second. Not only did all the members of the line earn a point, as Mika Zibanejad and Jack Roslovic picked up assists, it was scored on a breakaway.

All season long, the Blueshirts have struggled to generate the one-on-one scenario, and when they did, they failed to bury it. So it was good to see that in the playoffs. Much like 5-on-5 scoring, the Rangers quickly addressed that potential issue in a resounding successful start to the playoffs.

Anthony Scultore is the founder of Forever Blueshirts and has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL... More about Anthony Scultore

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