May 19, 2024

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Can the Rangers turn the playoff series around in Game 6?

Can the Rangers turn the playoff series around in Game 6?

New York Rangers coach Peter Laviolette is concerned.

He wasn’t fazed when the Rangers suffered their first loss of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs in Game 4 against the Carolina Hurricanes. He didn’t like the result, but he liked the way the team played – knowing that three straight wins over Kane’s side to start the series meant the Rangers had some breathing room.

But Laviolette saw the Rangers “off their mark” in Game 5, a 4-1 loss at Madison Square Garden that cut their series lead to 3-2 and set up Game 6 back in Raleigh on Thursday night.

They didn’t play fast. They didn’t have a proper offensive attack. Their details were not there. This is what matters to him.

“I mean, anytime you’re not using your abilities, you’re worried about it. But I also know that this group has games like [Game 5] He said: “They accepted and they responded.” “I think a lot of times there’s a realization that it wasn’t us. It wasn’t who we wanted to be. A lot of times this year, they fixed that.”

What do the Rangers need to fix in Game 6? What should they worry about?

Here’s a look at how New York’s series with Carolina is trending — and what trends could be reversed.


The Hurricanes are widening their 5-on-5 gap

The consensus opinion going into this series was that the Hurricanes were the better team at 5-on-5. They ranked first in the regular season and playoffs in shot attempt percentage. The Rangers were in 19th place heading into the playoffs. The Canes ranked first and third in expected goals and against, respectively. The Rangers ranked 20th and 18th in those categories. New York has improved equally since acquiring Alex Wennberg and Jack Roslovic at the trade deadline, but Carolina has been on another level.

The Hurricanes have had a shot attempt advantage in all five games of this series, and an expected goals percentage advantage in every game except for their Game 1 loss in New York. After scoring three goals in Game 5, they went 5-for-5 in the series, 11-9. They are plus-25 in scoring chances and plus-11 in high-danger shot attempts.

“We really think we had some good games at first but made some mistakes, especially on special teams. It’s gotten a lot better,” Carolina captain Jordan Staal said. “I thought our 5-on-5 game was really good, really solid. And it’s coming together a little bit more. We’ve got to keep fighting.”

While they are underachieving in expected goals (46.3%), the Rangers are an even 5-for-5 in goals for and against over nine playoff games. One of the main reasons for that: the line of Artemi Panarin, Vincent Trocheck and Alexis Lafreniere.

The trio have 55.7% of shot attempts and are successful in converting goals (+12) and high-danger shot attempts (+6). But Carolina got the best of them in Game 5. They saw a lot of Jakob Slavin, Jordan Martinuk and Martin Necas, all of whom excelled on the Rangers’ most productive line.

Analytics say Game 5 was one of the Rangers’ weakest games since the All-Star break. Stathletes’ Megan Chaika points out that they have had the second-fewest expected goals (1.95) and third-fewest scoring chances (10) in that period.

To address this, there may be some lineup shuffling for Game 6.

In their skate Wednesday, the Rangers switched up their defensive pairings. Kandre Miller has been reunited with Jacob Trouba, the duo who saw the most minutes together in the regular season for New York. Miller’s former partner, Braden Schneider, skated with Erik Gustafson, who played with Trouba. Both of the former duo had less than 50% expected goals share in the playoffs. Schneider and Gustafsson were also regular partners in the regular season.

Laviolette will not commit to those pairings the Rangers will play in Game 6.

“There’s a lot of experience there. We’ve spent a lot of minutes together,” he said of Trouba and Miller. “They are big, strong and have a lot of experience playing against big lines.”


Blackouts

The Rangers’ mediocre play at 5v5 has always been tempered by their incredible power play. They had 10 power-play goals in five playoff games, spanning from their Game 2 sweep against the Washington Capitals to their Game 2 win over the Hurricanes – a game in which they tied and won the game on the power play.

They did not score on the power play in Game 3 but had a crucial shorthanded goal from Chris Kreider to tie the game. The Hurricanes being 1-for-20 on their own power play has been as important to the Rangers’ success as their individual advantages.

Carolina’s lone power play goal was a big one, as Brady Skjei won Game 4 with a score late in the third period. While the Rangers scored a shorthanded goal in Game 5, their power play was shut out again — the first time New York has gone three straight games without a power play goal since March (11-14).

“The power-play goals we got were on the breakout play,” Laviolette said after Game 5. “We’ve got to get things moving quicker.” “They are very aggressive in what they are doing and we have to move. I don’t want to move. I don’t think we are smart.”

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The Hurricanes gained momentum by finally slowing down the Rangers’ power play.

“The kills have been pretty big for us the last two games,” Martinuk said. “I feel like being on the bench after you kill it — especially when you get blocked shots and players are selling — it definitely gives us a boost. When you look at the next turnover after getting a penalty, it usually creates momentum.”


There wasn’t much that happened in Game 4 that would worry the Rangers about closing out the series in Game 5. That included Andersen, who lost the first two games of the series and was replaced by Pyotr Kochetkov in Game 3. Andersen stopped 22 of 25 shots in Game 4, but It was negative for goals saved above expectations. He wasn’t exactly a source of confidence, as he gave up a bad corner goal to Lafreniere in the third period that allowed the Rangers to tie the game.

But he got the win, which was the only thing Carolina cared about.

Andersen’s performance in Game 5 should give the Rangers even more reason to be concerned. He made 1.41 more saves than expected per game, stopping 20 of 21 shots. The Canes played well against him, but when Carolina had to stop Andersen, he gave them everything they needed.

“It didn’t take a lot of work. That was good on our part because we didn’t allow that,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “But obviously he made some big saves at crucial times. He kept us in the game. If they had been two goals up in that game, it would have been difficult.”

The Rangers have the advantage in goal in all of the playoffs thanks to Igor Shesterkin. Whether Andersen closes that gap or not depends largely on whether Rangers make life harder for him in Game 6. Chaika points out that Rangers had the second-fewest shots on target with a presence in front of the net (three). and third – fewest scoring chances from the slot (seven) in a game since the All-Star break.

A lot of that is Carolina’s defense, and a lot of that is the Rangers not getting on their game…but give credit where it’s due: Andersen was better than expected in Game 5, both figuratively and analytically.

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Since joining the Hurricanes, Andersen is 7-1 at home with a .926 save percentage and a 1.80 goals-against average. But then, there’s a lot going on in Karolina’s house.


Carolina at home

Rangers captain Jacob Trouba said building a 3-0 series lead has its advantages.

“Obviously we want to finish the series, but we’re putting ourselves in a position where we might have some cracks,” he said after New York failed in its second attempt to shut out the Hurricanes. “We’ve played good games in Carolina. We know we can play in this building and we’ll go out there and have a better game.”

The Rangers have already won a rally in this series, needing overtime to win Game 3. This is somewhat notable, given how well the Hurricanes fared at home under Brind’Amour in the playoffs: 26-12, the best postseason record ever. The team has been at home since 2018-19 (minimum 20 games). They have averaged 3.13 goals and 2.00 goals against (1st in the NHL), during that period. Compare that to 2.60 goals and 3.43 away goals. They’re a different team in Raleigh.

“I’m proud of the group,” said Brind’Amour, whose teams have gone 16-5 at home the past three seasons. “They brought us another day.” “For our fans, it’s great. They deserved to see another game, and this is what we gave them.”

That’s what the Rangers lost in their Game 5 loss: not just the chance to eliminate the Hurricanes, but to avoid having to play in front of those rowdy fans in Raleigh who share the same anxious optimism as their hockey heroes.

“We gave ourselves a chance to play one more game to give ourselves a chance to hopefully get back here,” Martinuk said after Game 5. “We fight for our lives every game.”

The Rangers know what they need to do to shake off that optimism before it reaches its peak in Game 7 on Saturday. They are confident in their ability to achieve this.

“We know that Game 4 is always the toughest to win,” Trouba said. “This is a team whose season is on the line. We have to find a way to match that level of intensity and desperation.”

And in the process, avoid becoming the fifth team in NHL history to lose a series after leading 3-0.