There is COVID and there is a tropical storm coming through today–both of which are potentially life-threatening matters. The difficulties just seem to keep coming and coming. For the last few weeks, the New York Rangers have provided a little diversion, a ray of hope of an eventual return to normalcy. Today, that diversion is in danger of coming to an end. Yesterday, the Rangers lost to Carolina by a score of 4-1, which means that they face elimination from the post-season tonight.
It is less than a week since the Blueshirts faced the Islanders in their exhibition game, a contest which the Rangers lost 2-1. The goaltending and defense was very good, but the offense was anemic. Much of that had to do with the Isles excellent forechecking and defense, but the top offensive producing players were not on their game.
The Rangers were at more of a disadvantage when they met Carolina for the first time in the qualifying series on Saturday. Suddenly, Igor Shesterkin, the goaltender that the team had relied on during their surge late in the regular season was declared “unfit to play.” Not that Henrik Lundqvist had played poorly during the exhibition game or throughout Phase 3. It is just that Shesterkin had been the man between the pipes when the Rangers came together this past Spring. But Shesterkin’s injury, which became known to the team the night before the game, was a surprise (and not a good one) to a team that was the underdog to start with.
Add to the sudden entry of Lundqvist into the lineup, the injury to Jesper Fast in the first minute of Game 1, and the Rangers really were behind the eight ball. Fast is a critical member of this team–he can move up and down the offensive lines and is a very important part of the penalty kill. From the moment that Fast left the ice after his injury, Carolina dominated Game 1. The fact that the score wound up with a close 3-2 loss did not indicate how much better Carolina was than the Rangers in this game.
It is true that the Rangers got stronger as Game 1 went along, but that was mostly trying to look for a bright side. Carolina was the better team—in every area of the game. So, although some changes were expected for Game 2, one had to be somewhat skeptical, particularly if both Fast and Shesterkin remained “unfit to play.” Which they were. And so the team lost yesterday by the score of 4-1. There was very little offense generated (the only score the Rangers managed was on a 5 on 3 power play) and the defense just could not stop Andrei Svechnikov, who posted his first post-season hat trick.
Tonight will be the third, and potentially final, game of the series. Despite the hype and the fact that the Rangers have one of the league’s most dynamic forward in the league in its top six, let’s be honest. Even getting into the post-season is something that would have been a huge surprise to all when the season started. I remind you that that the Rangers were still a rebuilding team going into this season. There are several players coming that will integral parts of this team in the near future. Think about this team with Morgan Barron, Vitali Kravtsov, K’Andre Miller, Nils Lundkvist, and Matthew Robertson on it. Don’t fret—even if tonight brings an end to the Rangers’ shortened return to hockey, there are bright years ahead.