How the Rangers rallied their way to the Eastern Conference finals — and which key trends will continue

NHL

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The New York Rangers were as dramatic as a Broadway play until the end of Round 2.

The Blueshirts trailed early in Game 6 of their series against the Carolina Hurricanes, and appeared in danger of not only allowing the Hurricanes to stay alive, but win the entire thing by sending things back to New York for Game 7.

The third period was all Rangers, though. A hat trick from Chris Kreider in that frame helped New York overcome multiple deficits and punch their ticket to the Eastern Conference finals with a 5-3 win.

Here’s a look at the keys to their run so far, and a look ahead at how they match up against their two potential opponents.

Rallying Rangers

There’s no arguing that New York had its worst outing of the postseason in Game 5 against Carolina. The Rangers were comparatively lifeless from the start — and still nearly completed a comeback to send the Hurricanes home.

New York responded well after losses in the regular season, and if Game 5 was a blip in that respect (as was losing at all for New York in the postseason, let alone twice in a row), Game 6 is where the Rangers showed why they were Presidents’ Trophy winners. Even after falling behind 3-1, they staged an epic third period rally to seal the deal on opposing ice.

Instead of letting Carolina continue to fester and create doubt about how good a lineup New York actually has, the Rangers tapped back into their strengths (i.e., scoring more than one goal like they did in Game 5) and channeling their top-tier pedigree in enemy territory. Perhaps it wasn’t the cleanest of series, like the Rangers’ first-round sweep, but in the end New York finished the job.


Best of the bunch

It’s cliché for a reason: If your top skaters aren’t performing in the playoffs, it’s tough to find success (just ask the Toronto Maple Leafs).

Consider New York’s run last season, when Artemi Panarin produced just two assists in seven games. This time around? Panarin had four goals and nine points — through seven games. Vincent Trocheck has been a revelation in the postseason, with five goals and 12 points, Mika Zibanejad has tossed in 13 points and Alexis Lafreniere is playing some of his best hockey to date, with four goals and 10 points.

While depth is always an asset in the postseason, it almost always has to be in tandem with a team’s high-end talent steering the ship. That’s what’s happening for the Rangers. When all their stars are aligned, it’s hard to imagine slowing this group down.


Stealing with Shesterkin

The Rangers can give an opponent’s goaltender fits when their high-flying forwards get in a flow. New York is fortunate its netminder is in top-top shape, though, because for all the Rangers’ offensive prowess, they allow a shocking number of scoring chances against.

Igor Shesterkin has been up to the task of keeping New York from hurting itself (too much) defensively. Not only are the Rangers giving up the most shots on goal in the postseason (32.9 per game), Shesterkin also faced the most high-danger shots (63) and completed the second-most high-danger saves (52).

Carolina in particular peppered Shesterkin with an onslaught of quality opportunities. The cool, calm, collected version of Shesterkin (circa, say, winning the Vezina Trophy in 2022) has been on full display throughout the playoffs (with a .924 save percentage and 2.33 goals-against average to prove it). There’s no question he’s an integral piece in the Rangers’ dominance and will continue to be so in the series ahead.


Super special teams

It’s a classic case of pick your poison, because the Rangers can beat a team in multiple ways.

Their 5-on-5 numbers are, thanks to that noted core of offensive threats, strong this postseason. And then there’s the power play, which is third best in the playoff field (33.3%) and packs a powerful punch (with 10 goals through nine games).

New York’s penalty kill is even more effective, sitting second best overall at 91.2%, and it was a backbreaker for the Hurricanes to try to get through (Carolina started the series going 0-for-15 on the man advantage). And short-handed goals? New York leads the playoff field with four.

Thanks to that strong play in all situations, the Rangers present a formidable challenge to whomever lines up against them next.


How the Rangers match up with the Florida Panthers

At its best (and most entertaining), a New York-Florida series would just be nonstop goal-scoring. And if any two teams have the offensive firepower to make that vision a reality, it’s the Rangers and Panthers.

Florida and New York are averaging some of the best scoring totals in the playoff field (with 3.70 and 3.33 goals per game, respectively). They can be superb on special teams with two excellent power plays (30.3% and 23.7%) duking it out versus difference-making penalty kills (91.9% and 85.3%), and notably, the Panthers are second in shots on net (33.5) to spice things up even further with their competition.

The Rangers’ stars have come out in the postseason, and so have the Panthers’. Matthew Tkachuk (four goals and 13 points in the postseason), Aleksander Barkov (five goals and 13 points), and Carter Verhaeghe (six goals and 10 points) would be going stride-for-stride with the Rangers’ elite. And while teams don’t necessarily want to be into a track meet at any point in their season — particularly when stakes are highest — it might be inevitable when gifted scorers are rolling out on nearly every line.

New York’s defensive performance aligns with Florida’s, too. The Rangers have allowed 2.56 goals against per game in the postseason, compared to 2.60 by the Panthers — but Florida holds a considerable edge in limiting shots (giving up 24.2 per game versus 32.1). So, New York would have to tighten up there lest the Panthers take advantage to run wild. But even then, the back-and-forth that could come out of this series highlights what New York does well, and Florida has potential to offer up more chances than the Bruins might.

The Rangers’ other big boost is in the crease. Sergei Bobrovsky‘s numbers (.892 SV%, 2.62 GAA) have been solid, and he’s giving Florida timely saves. Shesterkin, though, has been exceptional for much of the postseason (.924 SV%, 2.33 GAA) despite New York’s leakier back end, and he has factored squarely into making New York appear at its most dominant. Naturally, we assume that will offer the Rangers a serious bump on the goaltending side (something they may not have in a series vs. Boston, where Jeremy Swayman has been locked in throughout the playoffs).

New York’s bread and butter has been its attack up front plus excellent netminding, and a series against Florida gives them the opportunity to lean on both — and punch their ticket back to a Cup Final.


How the Rangers match up with the Boston Bruins

This is the Original Six matchup both cities have longed to see on the big stage.

The last postseason meeting between these clubs was in 2012-13, a series Boston won in five games. The Rangers know what it takes to top the Bruins this time around, having swept the season series 3-0.

Boston doesn’t have the same showcase of scoring talent as New York does. The Bruins’ depth was an issue in their series against the Panthers, and the Rangers may, arguably, have more offensive threats in their lineup for Boston to heed. That would likely be the biggest question mark heading into this particular conference finals matchup: Can the Bruins go toe-to-toe with the Rangers up front?

Boston is relying on younger skaters than New York as well. While the Rangers are thick with experience, the Bruins require vital contributions from the likes of John Beecher (22 years old) and Mason Lohrei (23) to give them quality minutes in the postseason. The Bruins also average nearly one goal less per game than the Rangers (2.50 vs. 3.33).

It’s Boston’s goaltending that has been its backbone in the postseason. And Swayman might be the only netminder who can challenge Shesterkin when he’s in top form. The Bruins’ defense has allowed the third-most shots against (32.5 per game) while averaging the fourth fewest goals against (2.42 per game). The Rangers are in the same boat, giving up the fourth most shots (32.1) and fifth fewest goals (2.56). Frankly, this series’ winner would be the one not getting “goalied.”

The Rangers have a special teams advantage against the Bruins with the better penalty kill (91.9% vs. 81.8%) and power play (30.3% vs. 22.6%). But Boston’s kill stepped up big against Florida, and there may be momentum to carry on into another series, too.

Boston has shown resilience in the postseason by not blowing a 3-1 lead in the first round, and if the Bruins make it past Florida it will be by overcoming a 3-1 deficit. The Rangers would have to be prepared for Boston’s confidence to be sky-high going into a conference finals matchup that not too long ago likely looked — and felt — like a pipe dream.

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