The New York Rangers are back in the (actual) postseason for the first time since 2017, and are set to kick off their first-round series with the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight at Madison Square Garden. I collected some thoughts about this series from some of our Blueshirt Banter staff, to add to my own. Here are the topics we explored:
- Who will win the series, and in how many games?
- Who will be the series MVP?
- Who will be the biggest X-factor?
- Who/what we are most confident in?
- Who/what we are most worried about?
Without further ado, let’s get into our answers.
Who Will Win the Series, and in How Many Games?
Tom U., Joe, Kevin, Roberto: Rangers in 5
Tom D., Mike, Leighann: Rangers in 6
Jack: Rangers in 7
Most of the staff here is pretty confident that the Rangers will win, as four writers have the Blueshirts winning in only five games. I personally think the young Rangers will drop an extra game they shouldn’t before buckling down and closing the Penguins out in Game 6 in Pittsburgh.
Jack sees this as a tough series that will go the distance, and he gets into more details here.
Who Will Be the Series MVP?
Mike, Kevin, Jack, Leighann: Igor Shesterkin
Tom D., Joe: Artemiy Panarin
Tom U.: Andrew Copp
Roberto: Adam Fox
Not surprisingly, Igor Shesterkin is the most popular choice for series MVP. After all, he was the Rangers’ MVP for the regular season, putting up one of the best statistical goaltending seasons of all time.
Joe and I have Artemiy Panarin. My personal thinking is that the Rangers’ improved defense since the trade deadline will hopefully mean they do not have to rely on Shesterkin to bail them out as he did for much of the season before the trade deadline. Panarin, who had a career-high 96 points for the season on the strength of 74 assists, really elevated his game down the stretch, posting 40 points since the beginning of March (a span of 27 games played for him). He says he is “ready to go” following an apparently minor upper-body injury that kept him out of the lineup in the team’s final two regular-season games, largely as a precaution.
Tom U. is going with Andrew Copp, who has been a huge difference maker for the Rangers since his acquisition from the Winnipeg Jets at the trade deadline. He brings depth and balance the Rangers sorely needed in the forward corps all year.
Roberto’s choice of Adam Fox certainly makes sense as well, as he gets the Rangers’ offense going from the back end and quarterbacks their lethal power play.
Who Will Be the Biggest X-Factor?
Tom D., Tom U.: Alexis Lafrenière-Filip Chytil-Kaapo Kakko / “Kids Line”
Joe, Leighann, Roberto: Alexis Lafrenière
Kevin: Kaapo Kakko
Mike: Casey DeSmith
Jack: Evgeni Malkin
Some combination of Alexis Lafrenière and others comprising the “Kids Line” was a common choice among our writers. With the top two lines cemented as Chris Kreider-Mika Zibanejad-Frank Vatrano and Artemiy Panarin-Ryan Strome-Andrew Copp, recent practices have essentially confirmed that Lafrenière will join forces with Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko to form a line featuring three of the Rangers’ youngest and most skilled — albeit still raw and not fully established — players. The Rangers need to be able to produce offense at five-on-five, as that’s been an area of inconsistency this season. This trio, which hasn’t had much time playing together this season because of injuries and less depth pre-trade deadline, will be key in hopefully providing some secondary scoring after the first two lines — assuming Gerard Gallant keeps them together throughout the series.
I debated Copp and defenseman K’Andre Miller as other potential X-factors, but this third line could be the key difference between the Rangers having a low-stress series versus a much tougher one.
Mike and Jack looked towards the Penguins for their X-factors. Casey DeSmith will be starting the series in net, with Pittsburgh’s normal number one, Tristan Jarry, out for at least the first two games with an injury. How he’s able to handle his elevated role will be another key to the series.
Malkin, meanwhile, only played in 41 regular-season games because of injury, but still tallied 42 points. The 35-year-old is always a threat if he’s healthy.
Who/What Are We Most Confident In?
Tom D.: The goaltending advantage. DeSmith is certainly a serviceable goalie; he had a .914 save percentage and 2.79 goals-against average in 26 games, along with a goal-saved above expected of -1.00 (per Evolving Hockey), which means he’s almost exactly average in that regard. But the 30-year-old is a career backup who is now being asked to step into the starter’s role in the playoffs. Add in the fact that the Rangers are countering with Shesterkin, and this is a pretty clear advantage for the Blueshirts.
Tom U.: Igor Shesterkin. I think beating him four games out of seven is a tough task. It’s not insurmountable, but I don’t think the Penguins are the team built to do it.
Mike: The Rangers’ edge in net and the Penguins beginning the series without their starting goalie.
Joe: Hard not to pick Igor here, especially with the type of year he’s had.
Kevin: It’s looking like Igor Shesterkin versus Casey DeSmith to open the series. That should tell you all you need to know.
Jack: Goalies are voodoo, so picking them as the thing to be most confident about in a playoff series is probably asking for trouble. However, it’s the only factor where the Rangers clearly have the edge in this matchup.
Leighann: Goaltending. Goaltending. Goaltending. As long as the Rangers can get some goals on the board, they’re in good hands.
Roberto: I’d like to pick goaltending here if I’m being honest with you, but I’m going out on a limb with special teams. Listen, I understand the officiating could very likely favor the Sidney Crosby-led Penguins, but the Rangers have both a top-10 power play and penalty kill this year. Not many teams can match that.
We were almost unanimous here with goaltending being the thing that gives us the most confidence in the Rangers, but Roberto was the contrarian (we’ll forgive him), pointing to the Rangers’ excellent special teams.
Who/What Are We Most Worried About?
Typical Penguins favoritism in the officiating. Crosby and Malkin going off is always a concern when playing the Penguins, even with both of them in their mid-30s (and older than me!). The Rangers will also need to be able to consistently generate enough offense at five-on-five, which has not always been easy for them this season. This is where the “Kids Line” of Lafrenière-Chytil-Kakko comes into play (see X-Factors above). With an almost full roster back to health, hopefully the Rangers’ added depth since the trade deadline will also help with that.
Tom U.: I think there’s reason to be somewhat worried about how the Rangers’ young talent reacts to playoff hockey. How quickly they adjust to the tempo and style of playoff hockey will ultimately determine how far this team goes. There’s reason to be confident that they will be able to step up and meet the challenges that are to come, but we need to keep in mind that this team has already exceed expectations for the season. They are good enough to win at least a round, and Igor should help on that front, but how the kids respond and perform will impact the length of this series. On a secondary note, I think special teams is another thing to keep in mind, especially given how much the team was propelled by the power play in the regular season.
Mike: Every year, I underestimate what the aging Penguins can do and every year they find their way back into the playoffs. It would be a profound mistake for the Rangers to underrate Crosby in the playoffs. His supporting cast isn’t what it used to be but Sid is an undeniably special player. He can will his team into being better than the sum of its parts in the playoffs.
Joe: Confidence? Like, I’m actually confident the Rangers are going to win a playoff series. I picked the Rangers in five. I don’t know if I’ve ever picked the Rangers in five in my life. The depth at forward has been fantastic, the big guns for the Rangers have done big-guns things, so what am I worried about? Sidney Crosby is still Sidney Crosby, and the Rangers have a very good track record of making not good goalies look like very good goalies. So that.
Kevin: Sidney Crosby is still a goddamn monster and knows how to torment the Rangers in the playoffs. I am also concerned about how Gallant will deploy the likes of Lafrenière, Kakko, and Chytil. The Rangers are going to need depth scoring to get through the playoffs, and playing the likes of Barclay Goodrow and Dryden Hunt just isn’t that. If Gallant can show an ounce of trust in that “Kids Line” and let them get their licks in early and often, then this team can get through the series with ease.
Jack: As well as the Rangers have played since the deadline, ignoring the first 75 percent of the season where they were horrible on a nightly basis is irresponsible. The Rangers got the better of the Penguins in the three post-deadline meetings between these teams, but regular-season success isn’t as much of an indicator of playoff success against the same team as one might think. If the Penguins bounce back and play like the team they were for the first 75 percent of the season, even the post-deadline Rangers might not be good enough to beat them.
Leighann: The well running dry. Name a Ranger and it’s likely that he’s been elite in some fashion this season but we all know what can happen when the momentum stops and bad bounces never seem to go your way. I’d hate to see Kreider struggle to score, or Igor to fall back into his brief slump at the wrong time. Additionally, fatigue and inexperience. For a lot of younger Rangers players, this is their first taste of the playoffs and they’re going up against the third-oldest team in the league with a lot of players who have Stanley Cup experience. Sometimes, that’s just enough to make it hard to win. Also playoff Sidney Crosby should scare anyone and everyone.
Roberto: I’m afraid of the Rangers stumbling out of the gate and playing a long, grueling series because of it. If this series gets to Game 6 or 7, the Penguins’ playoff experience could find a way to play a role, not to mention the potential returns of Jarry and Jason Zucker providing a boost for Pittsburgh. The Rangers need to find a way to get it done and take command of the series right off the bat. Otherwise they could be in trouble.
Some more varied responses here, but yeah — Sidney Crosby is always a threat. While we all feel at least pretty good about the Rangers’ chances to take this series, the Penguins are not a team to be overlooked.
We’ve shared our thoughts. Who do you think will win this series, and in how many games?
Who will win this series?
This poll is closed
Rangers in 4
Rangers in 5
Rangers in 6
Rangers in 7
Penguins in 4
Penguins in 5
Penguins in 6
Penguins in 7