Game sevens are always hectic and a roller coaster of emotions and Sunday night at MSG was no different. The Rangers got off to a quick start from a goal by Chris Kreider and then the Blueshirts lack of discipline struck again. Bad penalties nearly doomed the Rangers again but Igor Shesterkin channeled his best Henrik Lundqvist impression to hold the Rangers back from the brink.
Positives: Shesterkin found his game after two incredibly un-Shesterkin like performances in Pittsburgh. We knew going into this series if the Rangers would have any chance of beating the Penguins the Blueshirts would need Shesterkin to be Shesterkin. Games five, six, and seven we saw Shesterkin return to form with some incredible saves to hold down the fort regardless of the Penguins scoring three goals. It’s really great see Shesterkin battle back and not let two poor showings get to him and he was able to find his game and help lead the Rangers over the Penguins.
Regardless of his stat line, this was not Artemi Panarin’s best hockey of his career. There were some head scratching decisions from Panarin through the series and he wasn’t the game breaker that we know he could be. Even though Panarin wasn’t at his best for most of game seven, he showed up when it mattered the most. On his final shot of the series he sent MSG from tension to euphoria and it was great to see Panarin finally use his shot on the powerplay. Good things happen when great players shoot the puck.
Tyler Motte had a fantastic game seven for the Blueshirts. One of the most unheralded acquisitions by Chris Drury at the trade deadline just paid off major dividends. Motte was effective as a penalty killer and was fantastic on the forecheck. For most of game seven the Rangers big guns were a no show and the fourth line, led by Motte, was responsible for most of the Rangers offensive zone time. Motte will have to come up large again against Carolina if the Rangers want to have a chance against the powerhouse Canes.
The kid line and Gerard Gallant’s adjustments. Gallant has been killed, rightfully so, for how he managed his bench in round one. With the Rangers season on the brink Gallant finally decided to use his clubs youth throughout the lineup. It directly resulted in the Rangers ability to tie the game with five minutes to go. Gallant decided to go with Zibanejad, Copp, and Lafreniere and that line created and offensive zone turnover and Zibanejad capitalized on the opportunity. The kid line continued their fantastic play generating opportunities and injecting life into what looked like a lifeless club.
Negatives: Puck management and lack of discipline while it didn’t do the Rangers in during round one but against Carolina it’ll end their season. The Rangers MUST clean up their game and learn from their mistakes or Carolina will run the Blueshirts over. Gerard Gallant also needs to be stronger with in game management notably with the lines. While he has made some adjustments including what I mentioned above, it has usually come late in the games with backs against the wall.
Now we move on to Carolina and if the comeback kids can prove anything, it is that this club is never out of a game. Something that has been a major character trait of the team all season. Hopefully the momentum of Zibanejad, Kreider getting going, Panarin building off his series clincher and the kids continuing to play lights out will keep this magical season alive.