As the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers rapidly approach, one series many have been waiting for is the New York Rangers vs Carolina Hurricanes Qualifying Round matchup. While these teams have never faced off in postseason competition, this season the Rangers clinched four wins over the Canes.
Phase Four of the NHL’s Return to Play Plan will commence on July 30 with exhibition matches. The 24-team tournament will begin on August 1 with the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, featuring 16 teams playing eight best-of-five series.
Despite the Rangers and Hurricanes sharing a division, there is very little of a rivalry between the two teams. However, that does not mean there are no storylines for these franchises coming into this unprecedented postseason. The Hurricanes were littered with injured players this season, leaving the team extremely inconsistent in 2020. This came just as the Rangers hit a hot streak, tallying 11-4-0 in February. This should signal that the Blueshirts will sweep the Canes in the qualifiers, but Carolina still notched two more points than the Rangers, despite playing two fewer games.
Moreover, Within the last year, the Hurricanes and the Blueshirts traded with each other three times. These trades include a deal that brought Brady Skjei to the Canes for a first-round pick.
New York Rangers vs Carolina Hurricanes Qualifiers Series
Hurricanes’ Uncertainty on Defence
Coming into 2019-20, the Canes’ defence was generally accepted as average. However, the season saw a different side of Carolina. The Hurricanes’ depth included Skjei and Sami Vatanen, who was added to before the suspension of the season. The pairing of Jaccob Slavin and Dougie Hamilton remained consistent and among some of the best defenders in the league.
Hamilton was on track for a career-high and was a possible contender for the Norris Trophy. This all came to a pause when Hamilton broke his left fibula, forcing him to sit out for the final 21 games of the regular season. After returning to practice for Phase Three, Hamilton missed two consecutive practices with an injury. Now, Hamilton’s status for the postseason is up in the air, despite his name still on the Canes’ roster. Also, Brett Pesce will most likely not compete due to his shoulder injury, inflicted back in February. However, if Carolina makes it far enough into the playoffs, he might be able to rejoin the team.
Even without Hamilton and Pesce, Carolina ranked within the league-average. If Hamilton can compete, he could serve as a strong leader of the defence core, as he is undoubtedly among the top two-way defencemen in the league. Coupled with Slavin, the tandem could undoubtedly serve as a large deterrent for any Rangers attack.
Rangers Offensive Depth
Throughout the latter half of the regular season, the Rangers surged into an offensive powerhouse. Mika Zibanejad led much of the charge for the Blueshirts, leading the league with 23 goals and 36 points 22 games since Jan. 31. Zibanejad’s career-high 41 goals rank an impressive fifth in the NHL while his goals-per-game rate at 0.72 was the best in the NHL this season,
Unsurprisingly, Artemi Panarin, who was a free-agent addition last summer, is tied for second in assists with 63 and places third in the league with 95 points in 69 appearances. Panarin, who is a finalist for both the Hart Trophy and the Ted Lindsay Awards, leads the offence alongside Zibanejad in a two-prong attack. This tandem led to 3.33 goals per game played. Panarin has the potential to lead this series and qualifying round in scoring.
While the Rangers have exceeded in the rush, ranking third in the league, the team still struggles in possession. However, Chris Kreider, who broke his foot earlier in the season, will be returning to the ice and will supplement New York in its transition game.
In the past four times New York and Carolina have faced off, the Rangers outscored the Canes 17-9. This statistic should come as a surprise as Carolina ranks third in CF in comparison to the Rangers who rank 28th.
While this may signal a Rangers sweep, where the Blueshirts fail in their offence, the Canes excel. As one of the best-ranked puck possession teams, it may be hard for New York to fight off the Hurricanes. All season long Carolina has been among the top-10 in shots per game, and around the top-10 in goals per game played.
Both teams have extremely unpredictable goaltending situations coming into the Stanley Cup Qualifiers. The Blueshirts have the choice to go for either their leading goaltenders for the past few years or the rising star who had not faltered since taking up the post. Igor Shesterkin took the top spot from veterans Henrik Lundqvist and Alexandar Georgiev. In the 12 matchups he started in, Shesterkin had a .932 save percentage and went 10-2-0, records better than Georgiev and Lundqvist.
Against the Hurricanes, both Shesterkin and Lundqvist have proven themselves up for the job. In the three games the latter started in, Lundqvist had a stellar .947 save percentage while Shesterkin marked a .931 save percentage.
There is no incorrect choice for the Rangers. Shesterkin ranks highest in goals saved above expectations at No. 11, but Lundqvist and Georgiev bring the experience needed for a postseason goaltender.
For Carolina, finding the proper netminder proved to be a challenge throughout the 2019-20 season. Both Petr Mrazek and James Reimer were injured in the same game that rendered Pesce injured. However, both are back with strong campaigns to start.
While Mrazek played more throughout the regular season and started last year during Carolina’s playoff run, Reimer ranks third among the NHL in Goals Above Expected. Both have experience comparing in playoff situations, but neither posted remarkably strong records this season — especially while facing the Blueshirts’ formidable offence.
Throughout the season, Carolina’s goaltenders posted a .873 save percentage at five-on-five and .836 in saves overall against the Rangers. In comparison, the Hurricanes’ netminders tallied a .912 save percentage at five-on-five and .903 in total against all NHL competitors. This disparity presents a challenge for Carolina moving into the qualifiers, which choosing either Mrazek or Reimer may not fix.
Prediction for New York Rangers vs. Carolina Hurricanes Qualifiers Series
This is a series that can truly go either way. Models are split 50/50 on who will prevail in the New York Rangers vs Carolina Hurricanes Qualifiers series. The highest for most models put one team at 55 percent chance of winning. It will be hard to predict each game, let alone a best-of-five series.
However, the Hurricanes’ unpredictable defence will not match up to the strength of the Rangers’ offence. While the Blueshirts may utilize a rookie goaltender and young defencemen, they have proven themselves to be able to ward off a strong Carolina offence.
Prediction: Rangers in four.
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