Five factors that will determine the Rangers-Hurricanes series

The New York Rangers had the best regular season record in the NHL. The Carolina Hurricanes ended up three points behind right in the rearview mirror – and the objects in the mirror are closer than they seem.

“The Rangers were the best team and we were on their heels all year,” Carolina coach Rod Brind'Amour said. “You have to get through the best of things at some point, so you might as well do it now.”

They meet in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs after the Rangers defeated the Washington Capitals and the Hurricanes eliminated the New York Islanders in five games. Game 1 of their series is Sunday (4:00 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN+).

The last time these teams met was in the second round of the 2022 playoffs, a series the Rangers won in seven games. Center Vincent Trocheck was part of the Hurricanes team and scored three goals in the series. He is now a key striker for Rangers.

“It was a fight. But they are now two completely different teams. A lot of new people since I’ve been there,” he said. “But still the same style of hockey.” [in Carolina].”

Brind'Amour is a constant behind the Hurricanes' bench. He and Rangers coach Peter Laviolette have a unique history: In 2006, Laviolette coached the Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup… and Brind'Amour was his captain.

The similarities between these titans of the East don't end there. Here are five things that could swing this incredibly close series in either direction.

Can the Rangers be successful at 5-on-5?

The Rangers' weak points in 5-on-5 play are now obvious. We wrote about it in December. We wrote about it again in April.

Against the Capitals, they did little to address those concerns, with an expected goals rate of 38.8% at 5v5 in their game. But scoring was a big part of that disparity, especially on offense: The Rangers were tied for just 13 minutes, 50 seconds in the series and trailed by just 17 seconds at 5-on-5.

New York is considered an underdog by many in this series due to how mediocre it is when not playing on special teams and how dominant the Hurricanes have been in 5-on-5 play. Carolina shot 59.5% of its shot attempts during the regular season, leading the league. They ranked second in expected goals percentage (56.9%), while the Rangers ranked 22nd overall (49%). This is a hallmark of the Brind'Amour teams.

It's worth noting that the Rangers have improved in 5-on-5 percentage (51.8% expected goals) since adding Jack Roslovic and Alex Wennberg to the lineup at the trade deadline.

Of course, even after the deadline, the Hurricanes still had an expected goals rate of 59.3%.

“When it comes to how you manage your offense, you have to pay attention to how a team defends,” Laviolette said. “For me, it changes a little bit depending on what the D-zone coverage is doing.”

Under Laviolette, the Rangers played a tough, simplified game that relied on quick puck movement. That has helped them achieve better results than last season, when they were overwhelmed by the speed of a team like the New Jersey Devils, who eliminated them in the first round.

Carolina also moves the puck quickly, but she moves her skates faster.

“It’s just fast hockey. Sometimes they swarm out. They're ready to go and you just have to keep your cool in your own zone, get the puck out and survive to fight another day. “They come in waves,” Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba said.

Brind'Amour felt the 5-on-5 battle would be tight defensively. “They don’t give you space because they’re a good team,” he said.

A wild card for the Rangers: Center Filip Chytil, who has been training with the team but has not played since November 2nd due to a suspected concussion. He scored four goals in seven games against Carolina in 2022, all at 5-on-5.

This series features two starting goalies who have made major strides at the right times.

Although the Rangers picked up wins, Shesterkin was inconsistent early in the season, resulting in backup Jonathan Quick starting 26 times. But Shesterkin had a .918 save percentage and 5.9 goals saved above average in his 14 games since the NHL trade deadline.

After a 4-1-0 start, doctors diagnosed Andersen with a blood clotting problem. He missed 49 games in four months. After returning to the lineup, Andersen posted a 9-1-0 record, 1.30 goals against average, .951 save percentage and three shutouts. According to Natural Stat Trick, he led the NHL with 11.6 goals saved above average during that span.

Andersen was named a finalist for the Masterton Trophy, which is “awarded to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to the game of ice hockey.”

Shesterkin had better numbers in the first round, with a save percentage of .931 and a goals-against average of 1.75. Andersen had a save percentage of .912 with a GAA of 2.25. Shesterkin faced more dangerous shot attempts per 60 minutes (7.47) than Andersen (6.6), but both goalies were able to keep their teams in check at even strength.

Andersen lost his only start against the Rangers this season but stopped 24 of 26 shots. Shesterkin was 2-1 against the Hurricanes with a .915 save percentage and one shutout.

Of course, when it comes to the Hurricanes, it's never just about a goalie. Rookie Pyotr Kochetkov started 40 games for the Canes during the regular season and posted a .911 save percentage. He faced the Rangers twice in this 2022 series.

“At some point we will be able to count on everyone on this team and he will be a part of it,” Andersen said.

Will a revamped Carolina offense wipe out the game?

Brind'Amour has coached the Hurricanes since the 2018/19 season. Since then, they have reached the conference finals twice, including last season when they lost by one goal to the Florida Panthers in four straight games.

That got to the heart of a common postseason problem for the Hurricanes: For all their puck possession and shot attempts, they were often unable to score at a crucial time to win a game or series. This is one of the most significant differences between the Rangers and the Hurricanes: Although New York plays an average of 5-on-5, they convert their chances more efficiently than Carolina.

The Hurricanes have traditionally not chased high-profile offensive players at the NHL deadline transfer. That changed this season when they won the Derby for free agent winger Jake Guentzel from Pittsburgh Penguins. He is a top talent who drives the game forward and finishes chances. He has also been one of the most effective playoff players in the NHL in recent seasons with 62 points in 63 games, including four points in five games against the Islanders.

Carolina also added former Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov at the deadline. After seven points in 20 regular season games, he picked up four points in five games in the first round.

Guentzel was slotted into the Hurricanes' top line along with Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov.

Looking around the team, having Svechnikov in this series could be more important than any move at the trade deadline. He had five points in five games against the Islanders after missing the 2023 postseason due to a torn ACL. He is a difference maker.

Can the Panarin series rise?

Artemi Panarin blamed himself for the Rangers' first-round exit last season, as he had just two assists and a minus-2 rating in seven games. In the offseason, he refocused, symbolically shaved his head and had a career year: 120 points in 82 games, including 49 goals.

In his return to the playoffs, Panarin had a solid performance: two goals and an assist in four games. The Rangers had such an advantage over the overmatched Capitals that they really didn't need Panarin to carry them. That will likely change against the Hurricanes given how close this series is.

But that doesn't just apply to Panarin. His line of Trocheck and Alexis Lafreniere had as many chances to score at 5-on-5 as they gave up in four games against the Capitals (20). They were slightly lower in expected goals percentage (49%). The Rangers need this line to be better than one that trades chances with opponents.

The special teams stalemate?

The Rangers benefit from their power play, which ranked third in the regular season (26.4%). They used it to complete three of their four wins against the Capitals, going 6-16 in the opening round. Not to be outdone was their penalty kill, which ranked third in the regular season (84.5%) and did not allow the Capitals to have a power play goal in three of the four games. In fact, they had as many shorthanded goals as the Capitals scored power play goals (2).

New York would have a special team advantage over anyone in the playoffs.

Well, almost everyone.

The Hurricanes had the best penalty kill (86.4%) and second-best power play (26.9%) during the regular season. In the first round against the Islanders, the Canes went 5-for-15 with the man advantage – despite allowing the Islanders three power play goals on 11 opportunities.

“The further you get into the playoffs, the more important it becomes,” Trouba said. “At this point, all teams have good power plays and good penalty kills.”

In their 2022 series, the Rangers' power play made the difference, with seven goals compared to just two goals for the Hurricanes. But the Carolinas' power play hasn't been nearly as good as this one, with Guentzel (11 power play points in 22 games with the Hurricanes) now leading the way.

This could be the most even match of the series – at least on paper – so it could also be to the series' advantage if it leans one way or the other.

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Anna Harden

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