After dispatching of the Pittsburgh Penguins to win their first playoff series since 2017, the New York Rangers have made it to the Metropolitan Division Finals. In a matchup most of Rangerstown expected to happen, the Blueshirts will square off against the division champion Carolina Hurricanes with a berth in the Eastern Conference Finals on the line.
The Hurricanes looked like they would run away with that division title and the home ice advantage it will provide them in this series, but the Rangers made a late season push to close the standings gap. In the end, Carolina came into Madison Square Garden twice in a two week span during the final stretch of the season, won both of those games, and those victories proved to be the difference between the 54 win Hurricanes and the 52 win Rangers.
That division title drew them into a matchup with Boston Bruins. In a seven game series that saw the home team win every contest, Carolina exercised their demons against a Bruins squad that knocked them out of the playoffs in consecutive seasons in 2019 and 2020. While the Rangers spent most of their series getting circles skated around them while Igor Shesterkin bailed them out, Carolina took part in a much more even series:
Series Recap Thread: #LetsGoCanes defeat #NHLBruins— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) May 15, 2022
A very even series at 5v5 (with the exception of whatever the hell happened in game two) went the distance.
(That's all the analysis you get because I watched virtually none of it) pic.twitter.com/zPRbrQF66q
When the Rangers and Hurricanes skated against each other during the regular season, it was usually pretty rough for New York. The two games in Raleigh saw the Rangers get outshot 79-41, but a 44 save effort out of Alexandar Georgiev was enough to salvage the second of those two games and earn a win. The pair of late season clashes in New York were more even with the Blueshirts outshooting Carolina 64-61, but the Hurricanes outscored the home team 8-5 in those games to nail down two crucial victories.
If the Rangers want to look for a glimmer hope, they need to look no further than the difference between Carolina’s regular season results against Boston. The Bruins were swept by Carolina and outscored by a laughably bad 16-1 margin, including 6-0 and 7-1 defeats on home ice. In spite of Carolina’s regular season domination, Boston was able to bounce back and go blow for blow with them and push them to a winner take all seventh game.
The Blueshirts had historically dominated Carolina for years prior to the COVID-19 induced pause to the 2019-20 season. Dating back to 2010-11, the Rangers had won 32 out of 40 games against Carolina and had swept all four games of the season series prior to their clash in the Toronto bubble. That all went out the window when Carolina swept the Blueshirts out of the bubble in the final games of Henrik Lundqvist’s career. Throwing out head to head and history leaves us with how each team fared during the regular season, and here how that picture looks:
Compared to Pittsburgh, there’s some differences in Carolina’s results over the course of the season. While the Penguins were a strong team over the aggregate, they were playing subpar hockey down the stretch and were a weaker team than the Blueshirts from the trade deadline and on. The Hurricanes experienced no such issues, and although their lone trade deadline addition (Max Domi from Columbus) wasn’t a major needle mover, Carolina entered the playoffs playing their best hockey of the season. Their goal differentials at 5 on 5 and all situations also blow New York’s out of the water.
A major difference that could benefit the Blueshirts is the penalty differential. While the Rangers’ special teams units were stronger on paper than the Penguins, Pittsburgh’s plus 33 penalty differential pointed to a major disparity in how much time each team’s respective units would see during the series. Carolina’s minus 45 differential was the second worst in the league during the regular season, and the team took 29 penalties against Boston in the first round. The Hurricanes sported the league’s top penalty kill during the season at 88%, but stumbled a bit with a 79.3% mark during the first round.
The goaltending situation for this opponent is strikingly similar to how it appeared against Pittsburgh. Frederik Andersen was Carolina’s primary starter throughout the regular season and was among the top goalies in the league, but he missed the entirety of the opening round with a lower body injury and will not be in net for Game 1. Instead, it’ll be former Rangers’ backup Antti Raanta opening the series in goal for the Hurricanes. Raanta will provide better goaltending than the Penguins got out of Louis Domingue, but the Blueshirts still have a heavy advantage when it comes to goaltending.
What is the current state of the @Canes goalie situation? Will we see Freddie Andersen or is it the Antti Raanta show? #LetsGoCanes play-by-play announcer @mikemaniscalco gives us the latest update. Check out the full series preview here⬇️https://t.co/AQkn3GmN0T#NYR #NoQuitInNY pic.twitter.com/zYVQJgFuTv— The Broadway Hat Podcast (@Broadwayhatpod) May 17, 2022
Raanta will be seeing plenty of action against his old team, and he’ll be joined by several other former Blueshirts. Brady Skjei, Brendan Smith, and Tony DeAngelo comprise half of Carolina’s defense corps. DeAngelo recorded a goal and seven assists in the opening round to tie fellow defenseman Jaccob Slavin in team scoring for that series. Jesper Fast and Derek Stepan are the former Ranger forwards Rod Brind’Amour will have at his disposal. Fast skated in all seven games while Stepan played a reserve role, only drawing into the lineup for Games 4, 5, and 6 after Jordan Martinook’s injury before sitting as a healthy scratch for Game 7 in favor of Steven Lorentz.
While gambling odds generally pointed towards the series against Pittsburgh being a coin flip, the same cannot be said against Carolina. The oddsmakers paint the Rangers as heavy underdogs here, with Draft Kings implied odds giving the team about a 38.5% chance of advancing. In spite of both teams needing to defend home ice in a winner take all Game 7 to make it this far, oddsmakers like Carolina significantly more than New York.
Quite frankly, it’s hard to blame them. The Blueshirts got taken to a Game 7 by a team trotting out their third string goaltender for the majority of the series, as well as a rash of other injuries that tipped the scale in New York’s favor. Carolina got taken to Game 7 by a team with arguably the best forward line in the league, and did so with their starting goalie on the sidelines for the entire series.
Carolina has the head to head advantage. They have the star power to go blow for blow with the Rangers’ top players. They have forward depth unmatched by anyone in the East, and their on-ice results bear that out. The Blueshirts will need a much better effort than what they put forth against Pittsburgh for this series to be competitive, much less win four out of the next seven games. Do they have that in them? We’ll find out starting tonight.
Prediction: Hurricanes Over Rangers in 5 Games
*All data via Evolving Hockey