What have the New York Rangers learned in the playoffs so far?

by 24USATVMay 6, 2022, 6 p.m. 14
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NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 05: The New York Rangers and the Pittsburgh Penguins tangle during the first period in Game Two of the First Round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on May 05, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

In the two games of their opening round series, the New York Rangers have learned a lot about playoff hockey. While facing the Pittsburgh Penguins in this best of seven series, they have seen first hand what it means to try and contain Sidney Crosby. They have learned the harsh lesson that no lead is safe and that the officials have pockets in which to hide their whistles. And they have come face to face with the sour reality of the extremes of sudden death overtime.

On the flip side, they have also learned that their mix of youth, talent and grit can triumph over an exceptionally more experienced opponent. The series may be even at one game a piece, but the Rangers have never trailed. Through the 165 minutes and 58 seconds of gameplay, the Rangers have either led or been tied with the Penguins. They know that they are one controversial goaltender interference call from being up two games to none in the series.

New York Rangers on the “road” to victory

What they do not know, what they have not yet learned, is how it will feel to be the road team for games three and four. The Garden faithful energized and at times lifted the team. The crowd erupted with every big hit, chanted Igor with every big save and mercilessly booed the Penguins. The team may have been the away team for 41 regular season games, but as they’ve seen over the last few days, the playoffs are a different animal.

To their credit though, the New York Rangers bring with them 25 road wins on the season, tied for the league lead. They also bring with them a powerplay that has regained its power, having gone two for three over the first two games when it mattered. Though technically two for five overall, operating at a 40% conversion rate. They bring with them a revived Artemi Panarin who had a goal and two assists in Game Two and 50-goal scorer Chris Kreider who hasn’t missed a beat in this second season, scoring in each of the two contests.

They have also learned that the kid line can respond. Until the shift where Filip Chytil’s go ahead goal was disallowed, the line appeared a bit overwhelmed. In part that is due to Mike Sullivan trying to match the Crosby line against them. But game to game, Chytil along with Alexis Lafrenière and Kaapo Kakko showed improvement as they adjusted to playoff hockey. In game one the trio surrendered 14 shot attempts, eight scoring chances and a goal against while generating only 11 shot attempts and three scoring chances. However in game two, with half the overall ice time, they generated eight shot attempts and two scoring chances while surrendering only six shot attempts and three scoring chances against.

The Rangers have also learned perhaps a new level of trust for their coaching and management staff. The new additions General Manager Chris Drury brought in have stepped up. Ryan Reaves has been a wrecking ball and Barclay Goodrow, though now injured, has provided an example of selflessness needed for playoff hockey. Additionally, Andrew Copp and Frank Vatrano lead the league in playoff production among players acquired at or leading up to the trade deadline.

Though perhaps most importantly, is to now know that the decision made by Benoit Allaire to rest Igor Shesterkin at the end of the regular season was the correct one. Shesterkin had never played as many games (53) as he had this season and his play over the previous six weeks lagged behind what it had been for the first several months of the season. However, he has responded by stopping 118 of the 124 shots he has faced for a .952% save percentage. A little bit of rest has gone a long way.

“Be mindful of what you have learned, save you it can” – Master Yoda

In the end the New York Rangers have learned that they are the better overall team. That is not to say that the Penguins cannot, or have not, influenced their will on the game. For stretches at a time the Penguins have controlled play, but the Rangers are better equipped to weather those storms. Headed into Pittsburgh will be a challenge, especially with the Penguins having last change match-up options, but the Rangers have learned one last thing. That they can meet the challenges of the intensity playoff hockey brings.

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