The New York Rangers have many promising young players. On Saturday, they got a lesson in playoff hockey from the Carolina Hurricanes.
This isn’t the regular season. The Carolina Hurricanes made that clear from the opening minute, taking out a key New York Rangers’ player, establishing a stifling forecheck and scoring early for a 3-2 win in Game One of the Stanley Cup Qualifying Round in Toronto.
Game Two is set for Noon on Monday. And if the Rangers are going to avoid getting pushed to the brink of elimination in this best-of-five series, they’re going to have to play with more jam and a lot more speed than they did on Saturday.
The youngest team in the NHL with just seven players who were on the team’s last postseason appearance in 2017, the Rangers saw a vastly different Carolina team they went 4-0 against in the regular season.
Carolina set the tone inside the first minute when former Ranger defenseman Brady Skjei nailed Jesper Fast with a clean, hard hit. Fast left the game and didn’t return. Rangers coach David Quinn did not provide additional information on the versatile veteran winger’s status when asked during his postgame press conference on MSG Network.
Shortly after Fast was hit, the Hurricanes scored at the 1:01 mark when Jaccob Slavin’s shot beat surprise Rangers’ starter Henrik Lundqvist over the shoulder on the short-side. “The King” made his 128th consecutive postseason start after the team announced that rookie sensation Igor Shesterkin was “unfit to play” just a few hours before the opening faceoff.
Quinn said that the news of Shesterkin, followed by Fast’s injury, and Carolina’s quick goal, contributed to the Rangers’ sluggish start.
“Without question,” the coach said. “There’s no doubt that when you give up a goal (1:01) into the period and you lose Quicky (Fast) it has an emotional effect on your team. They get the goal because (Fast) really doesn’t have his wits about him, Slavin goes backdoor, and the play Quicky usually makes, he just not mentally ready to make it, he’s hurt. So not only do we lose our best player, a goal was scored because of it.”
The Rangers played better in the final two periods, but didn’t get many opportunities, never mind rebounds, as the Hurricanes continued to attack with speed and tenacity while keeping the Rangers’ attack mostly to the perimeter.
“They out-competed us, really,” said Mika Zibanejad, who scored the Rangers’ first goal after leading them with 41 during the regular season.
The Rangers failed to score on seven power plays, mustering a combined eight shots, and barely made goalie Petr Mrazek break a sweat after he went 0-3 with a 3.44 goals-against average and .872 save percentage versus New York last regular season.
“Well, I thought we played a team that was pissed off because we had beaten them four times during the year,” Quinn said.
“Obviously, the first shirt or the second shift of the game, we lose one of our best players and they get a goal because of it. Obviously (Justin) Williams gets into a fight with Stromer (Ryan Strome). Listen, when you play a team that you’ve had success against, they’re going to come out with a little more hunger and piss-n-vinegar and they certainly did.”