Hockey is back in a big way, which means there’s a lot to cover in a relatively short period of time. To that end, it’s time to get on with the show and sum up the Stanley Cup Playoffs Qualifying Round matchups.
Up first, the New York Rangers and the Carolina Hurricanes.
In one corner, we have the Hurricanes. A squad who was a “Bunch of Jerks” and lived to tell about it. A squad who came out of seemingly nowhere, barging into the post-season as the first wild card and venturing all the way to the Conference Finals. That happened to end a nine-year playoff drought. This time out, Carolina will be looking to take the next step as a franchise.
In the other corner, it’s the Rangers. They’ll face the Hurricanes at noon Eastern on Saturday and have the blessing of being in the first qualifying matchup to air in hockey’s compelling pandemic restart. When the Rangers hit the hiatus in March, they were rolling with the seventh-best power play in the NHL and were fifth-best in goals scored.
Head-to-head this season, the Hurricanes have dropped all four contests to the Rangers.
But after a significant pause, all bets are off and Carolina could emerge as the favourites. Tangling with the Rangers in a best-of-five series will require the Hurricanes to double-down on what they do best: team defence.
Jaccob Slavin and Dougie Hamilton are the prime movers for that Carolina D, although we may not see Hamilton right away. Brett Pesce won’t be ready, either.
Goalie Petr Mrazek will be in tough against one of the league’s best scoring teams and he’ll probably face a high shot volume, but his defence should be sound and keep that crease clear.
In the other crease, the Rangers have a bit of an issue. As of right now, New York has chosen not to name a starting goalie – and they won’t do so until August 1. There are intriguing possibilities, like Igor Shesterkin. He put up good-to-great numbers in his rookie campaign and might be ready to overtake Alexandar Georgiev. Meanwhile, Henrik Lundqvist could well be the backup. Times have changed.
So when you take Carolina’s defence and put them against New York’s offence, which includes the likes of Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad, you’ve got the makings for a great matchup. Consider that Zibanejad had a five-goal game against Washington way back in March and you’re dealing with a potent goal-scoring squad that might – might – have a slight edge in this series.