At the time of this writing, the Rangers are hours away from playing their biggest game of the season. Game 5 against the Devils in New Jersey will be the biggest test of the Rangers season and it will decide who has the series lead going into MSG for Game 6. The Rangers had a 2-0 series lead before letting the Devils come back into this series by not putting up a fight at MSG and not testing the Devils’ rookie goalie and giving him two easy wins.
The game tonight will truly show what this Rangers team is made of. Are they the team that dominated the first two games in New Jersey or are they the team that fell asleep when they could have put this series away? There are a few things they need to do in order to get the win and if they can pull it out, they can bring the momentum back home and finish the series.
The first thing that needs to happen is that Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin need to wake up from the nap they have been taking this entire series. Neither of them has scored a goal and only has two assists each. They have looked invisible when they have been on the ice and do not look like the dangerous players we know they are.
They are the two most talented forwards are were offensive weapons during the regular season, so seeing them become ghosts in this series has been quite troubling to see. Zibanejad had a similar start last playoffs and did not score a goal until Game 6 against the Penguins, so we know he can be a slow starter.
We also know that he shows up when his back is against the wall and he is needed in the series now more than ever. Panarin also had a disappointing post-season last year and he has not looked good this year. Both of these players need to step up in these next two games if the Rangers have any chance of advancing.
The next key to success is getting the power play back into form. The Rangers went 0 for 8 in Games 3 and 4 after scoring 4 power-play goals in the first two games. They were all scored by Chris Kreider and the Devils finally learned that they needed to cover him and magically, the power-play become obsolete. While the Devils made adjustments, the Rangers kept trying the same thing and it did not work.
Finally, the Rangers are going to switch up the spots on the power play and they will have Zibanejad in his office in the left circle and out of the pointless bumper position. This allows the Rangers to have another weapon other than Kreider and if the Devils cover Zibanejad more, it will allow other players to be open for scoring chances. If the Rangers want to win, they need their power play to come through.
The one thing the Rangers need to keep doing is playing strong defense. The Rangers have been very good defensively in this series and that strong play, plus the excellent play of Igor Shesterkin has held the Devils to just six goals(not counting the empty net goal) in this series. That is remarkable and it shows that if the Rangers can just find some offense, they can win this series. They have been able to slow the Devils down and take their speed out of the equation.
Shesterkin has stopped many Grade A chances and has played extremely well. This combo has kept the Rangers in games and has given the Devils many issues in this series. All the Rangers need is to score goals and let Igor be Igor and keep the defense the same.
All eyes are on this game tonight. The Rangers and Devils are both going to play strong games because they both want that series lead heading into Game 6. If the Rangers want that lead, they need their stars to produce, the power play to dominate, and for Shesterkin to keep playing out of his mind. The biggest test of the season is upon us. Buckle up and enjoy the ride.