Rangers players celebrate a goal by left wing Artemi Panarin...

Rangers players celebrate a goal by left wing Artemi Panarin against the Hurricanes in the third period of Game 1 of an NHL Stanley Cup second-round playoff series at Madison Square Garden on Sunday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Rangers in 16?

Hey, why not? At this point, there is no reason to doubt anything about the NHL’s best regular-season team, which is 5-0 in the playoffs.

If my math is correct, that is nearly one-third of the way to a four-round sweep of the Stanley Cup playoffs, a feat that never has been accomplished. (The 1987-88 Oilers needed only 18 games.)

OK, you caught me. Just using a little hyperbole here to make a point.

It is highly unlikely that the Rangers will go 16-0. But after watching them defeat the Hurricanes, 4-3, on Sunday at Madison Square Garden in Game 1 of the teams’ second-round series, their prospects look better than ever to play into June.

For a one-goal game, things could not have gone much better for the Blueshirts.

Let’s see . . .

Special teams? The Rangers were 2-for-2 on the power play, requiring a total of 23 seconds to score their two goals, by Mika Zibanejad and Vincent Trocheck.

“The power play was really good,” coach Peter Laviolette said before adding this vast understatement: “Efficient.”

Carolina was 0-for-4 on its full power plays. Coach Rod Brind’Amour correctly noted that sort of special-teams math “is not going to work.”

All season, the Rangers have been questioned about their five-on-five prowess. But as long as they keep playing like this on power plays, who cares?

Goaltenders? The Rangers’ Igor Shesterkin looked like the better bet to shine coming into the series. Then he did just that against Frederik Andersen.

“Shesty was incredible for us,” Chris Kreider said. “He was our best penalty-killer.”

Andersen, meanwhile, gave up a crusher between his legs to Artemi Panarin that made it 4-2 in the third period.

Star power? The Rangers have big names, and those big names had big days, led by Zibanejad’s two goals and one assist in the first period.

Kreider had two assists, including a nifty one on Zibanejad’s second goal.

Panarin, the biggest star of all, scored that essential goal at 8:21 of the third period, a tally that proved necessary when the Hurricanes later got within one.

While Laviolette stressed that contributions are needed from all parts of the roster in the playoffs, he said it was nice to see Zibanejad, Trocheck and Kreider named as the three stars.

“They’ve had such a heavy impact on our team offensively the entire year, to get that in Game 1 was really good,” the coach said of his big guns.

Toughness? The Rangers scrapped with the Hurricanes through a long, chippy first period that seemed to set a tone.

Then they settled into two periods of freer hockey that demonstrated they can play any style.

“I think we knew how they played and we want to try and match their work ethic and I think we did a great job of doing that,” Braden Schneider said.

Even though the Rangers won the Presidents’ Trophy, the Hurricanes entered the series as the betting favorite, a testament to the respect those inside and outside hockey have for them.

The Rangers deserve plenty of respect, too. On top of everything else, they proved that having a week between games was not a detriment to getting off to a fast start. They looked rested and ready.

“It’s huge,” Ryan Lindgren said. “We came out flying and got an early lead. Obviously, it’s nice to get this one, and now it’s on to Game 2.”

That will be Tuesday night at the Garden, where the Rangers will try to extend their overall winning streak to eight games, including the final two of the regular season.

They won 10 games in a row in midwinter, prompting a reporter to ask Laviolette if he feels a similar mojo now.

Predictably, that comparison did not fly.

“It’s the playoffs,” the coach said. “Somebody doesn’t have it go their way, the hair goes up on the back of their neck and they’re more pointed in their game. So we’re going to have to elevate our game as well.

“So for me, everything in the playoffs goes game to game.”

That is how the Rangers should be approaching this, of course. But the rest of us can say or do or dream — or write — whatever we want.

Eleven left!


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