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Handy Dandy Playoff Notebook: Best of Three Starts Now

  • The New York Rangers are in Carolina tonight for Game 5, and by taking care of business on home ice during Games 3 and 4, they have guaranteed that Game 6 at Madison Square Garden will be an elimination game. What is yet to be determined is which team will have its back against the wall.
  • But that’s Game 6, and tonight is Game 5, and the Rangers have another golden opportunity in front of them. The best option for the team going forward in this playoffs is a win in Game 5 in Carolina, and another in Game 6 to end the series 4-2.
  • It would be less than ideal to lose Game 5 and then be in a position to have to win two in a row, although the Rangers have done it before. There’s also a possibility of winning Game 5, losing Game 6, and then having to win Game 7... but it would be nice to avoid that drama.
  • Momentum is fluid in the playoffs, and even though there are as many people who believe in it as those who don’t, it is hard to say that something hasn’t started to shift in the favor of the New York Rangers
  • As I wrote about in this space previously, the Rangers just as easily could have headed back to MSG leading 2-0 or being tied 1-1. That didn’t happen, and instead the team manufactured a win in Game 3 and played their most complete game of the playoffs in Game 4.
  • And further to that point, the Rangers somehow have been the better team 5v5 after four games played.
  • Playoff hockey is wild, and in recent years there’s been enough upsets to the point that this development shouldn’t be all that shocking. And yet despite that... it is hard not to be optimistic about the Rangers given that they still haven’t played to their full potential.
  • Don’t get me wrong, Game 4 certainly is something that should make the team feel good from a process and results perspective, but am I wrong to think that they can take things to another level?
  • I say this primarily because you have a few cases of players who aren’t getting as rewarded as they should be. The first three I think of are the Kid Line of Alexis Lafrenière, Filip Chytil, and Kaapo Kakko.
  • Via Evolving-Hockey, Chytil has a GF% of 41.96, a CF% of 53.61, and an xGF% of 50.91. Kakko has a GF% of 36.97, a CF% of 49.48, and an xGF% of 46.85. An then you have Lafrenière who is rocking a GF% of 43.1, a CF% of 50.6, and an xGF% of 43.75. The first two players have the largest visible gaps in expected performance vs. actual, but I think the line as a whole has deserved more.
  • Gerard Gallant decided to split up the line recently, and it saw Kakko move to the fourth line which is something that would have drawn a ton of ire in the regular season, but makes some sense in the playoffs. One of his biggest strengths in these playoffs has been holding onto the puck along the boards, cycling back and forth, and chewing up time. It works for now, and at the very least fourth-line shifts are a little less stressful for those watching.
  • There are other examples, I’d have said Frank Vatrano more vehemently before Game 4, and to an extent Andrew Copp, but my hope is that their play in Game 4 is a sign of them turning the corner a bit.
  • Ryan Strome deserves a goal in the worst way. He’s been snake bitten in these playoffs in a manner I haven’t seen since Rick Nash, and I feel that him getting one will open the floodgates a bit. Sticking with his line... I wonder what the injury ailing Artemiy Panarin is. Yes... he’s still found ways to be productive over the entirety of the playoffs to this point, but by and large fans have been deprived of the play that has made Panarin one of the league’ top 5 forwards over the past few seasons.
  • We’ve seen Sammy Blais and Barclay Goodrow start to get better from the sidelines to the point where they may become an option if the Rangers can extend their run, and I hope there’s a possibility where a healthier Panarin can come into the picture.
  • The Rangers made a number of moves at the trade deadline, and despite Copp having a line of 5-5-10 through 11 games played, am I wrong to think that Tyler Motte is the one acquisition that’s had the largest impact?
  • Motte’s played 6 playoff games and been absolutely sensational. He’s a ball of energy that is seemingly doing everything everywhere all at once. He is the far and away team leader in xGF% at 59.83, 2nd in CF% at 50.91, and has been on the ice for the fewest shots against per 60. His versatility has been on full display this series, and he deserves recognition for the work he’s doing.
  • All of that said, tonight is a chance for the Rangers to put Game 1 and 2 in the mirror and take a stranglehold on the series. Carolina is a really talented team that is going to come out with fire tonight, and the results from this game won’t necessarily dictate what happens the rest of the series.
  • They’ve won every playoff game at home, while losing every game on the road, so something will have to give if the Rangers want to move on to Tampa.
  • However, part of me feels that if the Rangers take care of business tonight that they are going to close things out in 6. They play the games for a reason, but that’s just what I think. I have been wrong before, and will be wrong again, but too many things have gone the Rangers way overall to make me think otherwise.