With the expectations of a resumed NHL season, the New York Rangers will see playoff hockey for the first time in three seasons with a young and inexperienced team.
The last time the New York Rangers skated on a sheet of ice with the words “Stanley Cup Playoff” was in 2017. The Blueshirts lost in the second round to the Ottawa Senators four games to two. At the time it was a devastating series loss as the Rangers were favorite to win after they knocked off the Montreal Canadiens in the first round in six games.
Today, the Rangers only have seven players remaining for that season. Pavel Buchnevich, Jesper Fast, Chris Kreider, Henrik Lundqvist, Brendan Smith, Marc Staal, and Mika Zibanejad. They remain the heart and soul of the club, though some have different roles than they did three seasons ago.
The team that is headed to the best of five-game “play in” playoff when the NHL resumes sometime this summer consists of players who little or no Stanley Cup playoff experience. More importantly, they have a second-year head coach who will get his first taste of playoff hockey and at the same time needs to prepare his team for something he has never done himself.
That is to win a playoff series without any kind of home ice, in the midst of a global pandemic. Need some more drama? Ok, let us start with this. Who will Quinn start in goal for the first playoff game? The face of the franchise who has a 25-5 record against the Carolina Hurricanes since 2011 in Henrik Lundqvist or the rookie prodigy Igor Shesterkin, winner of his first 10 of 12 games he started this season.
We can get back to that tough question later on.
Throughout this crazy season one thing has remained constant. This team is loaded with young players who play with no fear. They leave it all out on the ice every game. The history of this storied franchise isn’t on their back like Lundqvist or Kredier have. They haven’t suffered the devastating playoff losses that have haunted the club since 1994.
Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren, Philip Chytil, Kaapo Kakko, Brett Howden, Julien Gauthier, and Alexandar Georgiev will all be taking the ice for the first time in the playoffs. That’s just the guys on the roster now. The league almost certainly will expand the rosters once the “mini-training camp” begins sometime in July.
David Quinn and his staff will be able to bring the kids along with the mixture of veterans on this team to jell into a formidable opponent for the Canes and any other team that comes their way.
The Breadman and Mika
True leadership will come from the team’s top players on the ice. Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad have led the team all season. Panarin had 95 points (32 goals) which led the team. Zibanejad leads the team in goals with 41, but more importantly, he is the player the kids and veterans respect and relies on upon in the big moments.
A one-two punch in the gut to any team they face off against, this tandem has an opportunity no one believed would occur when the 2019-’20 season began back in October. A chance to make the playoffs. The announcement by the NHLPA on Friday night gave fans hope of seeing hockey gaon this year.
It gave Rangerstown hope of seeing that NHL Stankey Cup Playoff logo on the ice again.
Experience is sometimes referred to as invaluable. For this group of players who bonded from individuals to a hockey team the missing experience from their resume will be replaced with a desire to win for their fans, and a passion to not give up no matter what deficit they face.
Hockey is closer to reality than it was just one month ago. The Rangers will be ready for whatever lies ahead of them, on or off the ice.
Oh, I almost forgot. Henrik or Igor? It doesn’t really matter. Whoever gets the call will give the Hurricanes everything they have. What more could you ask?