Henrik Lundqvist has given the New York Rangers some great moments in his career, most notably leading the team to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2014. But the 37-year-old goalie, his standing in New York already teetering, may have finally given up the ghost. The Carolina Hurricanes beat Lundqvist in the first two games of the NHL’s preliminary playoff round and then closed out the sweep yesterday afternoon against Igor Shesterkin.
It wasn’t Lundqvist’s fault. Not by any stretch. The Hurricanes are a better team. What this series underscored is how much a good defensive team can impose their will on more skilled offensive players in the playoffs.
New York’s trio of Chris Kreider, Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad keyed an offense that ranked fifth in the NHL in goals scored at the point of the shutdown in March. Other than a beautiful goal scored by Kreider on a breakaway in Game 3, Carolina kept them under control. The Hurricanes, a middling 14th in the league in goals scored, outshot the Rangers 102-88 in this three-game set.
The bottom line is that a good defensive team—as Carolina most definitely is, ranking sixth in the NHL in goals allowed, is at a decided advantage in the postseason when games get more physical and officials are less likely to influence the proceedings with their whistles. There was a time when Henrik Lundqvist could have given the Rangers a real chance in a series like this. Not anymore.
Carolina has an interesting playoff history. This is only their third playoff appearance since the Stanley Cup season of 2006 (as the 6-seed this year, they didn’t need the COVID-19 expansion of the tournament to qualify). In both previous appearances they reached the conference finals. That includes last year when the Hurricanes ousted the defending champion Washington Capitals and then swept the New York Islanders in an impressive run before it came to an end against the Boston Bruins.
If what Carolina did these last three games to the Ranger offense is any indication, they’ll be a tough out again when the Round of 16 gets rolling next week.