Rangers Recall: First to clinch and first to advance

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Washington Capitals
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

When the final buzzer sounded on Sunday, the New York Rangers secured a 4-2 win over the Washington Capitals and their first series sweep since 2007. They also became the first team of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs to advance into the next round after being the first team to clinch a spot in the dance on March 26.

“Winning a playoff series in general is a difficult thing to do,” center Vincent Trocheck explained. “To close a team out in four is even tougher. I think that it says we’re a good hockey team.”

The Blueshirts came into this series as heavy favorites thanks to a 55-win season and finishing as the NHL’s best with 114 points to earn the Presidents’ Trophy. That gave them a matchup against the Capitals that squeaked into the postseason as the second wild card team in the Eastern Conference.

New York took it to the 16th ranked Capitals in these playoffs and outscored them 15-7. In the process of advancing, they also recorded eight goals at even strength, five on the power play, and two shorthanded.

“Power play and penalty kill were really good,” said coach Peter Laviolette. “The lines and the defense, the way they’re set right now gives us a lot of balance.”

Let’s look at some of the key takeaways from this series.

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Rangers Recall: How Sweep It Is!

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

Shutting down the Great 8

We begin with an amazing stat regarding just how good the Rangers were defensively in this series. Alex Ovechkin, who is arguably the greatest goal-scorer in NHL history, was held to no points and just five shots on goal.

“They checked him so tightly that every time he got the puck he has a half second to make a play and there’s usually a stick and some shin pads on it,” Capitals coach Spencer Carbery noted.

Artemi Panarin vanquishes personal demons

Fans may have noticed a new celly in the postseason for Artemi Panarin that looks like a sword slashing. Despite an incredible 120-point regular season, the Breadman was still haunted by the demons of last year’s playoffs where he scored no goals in the Rangers first-round loss to the New Jersey Devils.

After scoring in Game 1, his elation could clearly be seen from the last rows of Madison Square Garden. The Capitals were able to keep him off the scoresheet for the next two contests, but in Game 4 he added two points (one goal, one assist) that included the game-winner to break a tie in the third period.

Igor Shesterkin laser focused

The former Vezina Trophy Winner (2021-22) looks locked in through four playoff games. Aside from backstopping the sweep, he’s been clutch with a .930 save percentage, and a 1.75 goals against average. According to Natural Stat Trick, Shesterkin has a 5-on-5 high-danger save percentage of 90.37%.

“He seems to be tracking everything really well,” Laviolette said. “He seems to be seeing the whole ice surface, not just the puck or the play. He sees what’s behind him on the other side. I thought he was excellent.”

Vincent Trocheck even better in playoffs

Easily one of the toughest players to play against, Trocheck had an amazing regular-season with 77 points in 82 games. Well, he appears to have found another level in the playoffs. The 30-year-old pivot has six points (three goals, three assists) to date, and is a staggering 71.2% on draws.

Mika Magic arrives just in time

Despite a lackluster regular-season by Mika Zibanejad’s standards, he’s elevated his game just in the nick of time. After scoring 19 points less in 2023-24 (72 points) than the season before (91 points in 2022-23), he leads the team in playoff scoring with seven (one goal, six assists).

Rest is the best

The Blueshirts will now have plenty of time off as they wait for the winner of the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Islanders. Those teams square off on Tuesday for Game 5 with the Hurricanes up 3-1 in the series.

“It seemed like we had six days off before this first playoff game,” Laviolette explained. “It was really good for our group because we were able get some rest off the bat. It gave us time to prepare so there’s some value there.”

For the record, just two teams in the salary cap era starting in 2005-06 have gone on to win the Stanley Cup after playing seven games in the opening round (2011 Boston Bruins and 2014 Los Angeles Kings). Meanwhile, eight Cup winners won their first-round series in five games or less, with another eight going six games.

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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