When the Rangers begin their best-of-five play-in series Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes, they will have a very familiar look to them. Their coach, David Quinn is taking the attitude that, if it ain’t broke, you don’t fix it, and in his mind, the Rangers weren’t broke when the NHL halted play on March 12 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
So even after his team lost its one pre-playoff, warmup game Wednesday against the Islanders, 2-1, Quinn wasn’t looking to tear everything up and start from scratch.
“We want to focus on getting back to where we were, and, obviously, at a higher level even,’’ Quinn said on the postgame Zoom call with reporters. “We just want to keep moving forward. We wanted to keep building and getting everything geared towards Saturday . . . I liked the first 30 minutes, didn't love the last 30. And you know some individuals have to have to be better for sure. But… we hadn't played a hockey game in four months. So, you know, we're gonna take a day off tomorrow recharge the battery have a good practice on Friday and get ready to go for Saturday.’’
Going in, there were no spots in the lineup to be filled, and Quinn said he didn’t learn anything from the game that he didn’t already know. But there was the question of who will start in goal against Carolina, rookie Igor Shesterkin, or franchise icon Henrik Lundqvist.
Shesterkin had taken over as the No. 1 goaltender by the time play had paused, but Lundqvist has dominant career numbers against the Hurricanes. While Quinn has so far refused to declare his No. 1, all indications are that he is leaning heavily toward Shesterkin, who started Wednesday and faced only seven shots on goal in his 29:15 of action. He stopped the first six, before being beaten by Anthony Beauvillier at 9:15 of the second period. Lundqvist replaced him after that goal and he stopped 14 of 15 shots, beaten by Devon Toews with 4:25 remaining in the game.
“I thought they were both pretty good,’’ Quinn said of the two goaltenders.
On Wednesday, Quinn started the game with the same lines that had been together before the pause. Chris Kreider played on the left wing with center Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich on the first line, Artemi Panarin, Ryan Strome and Jesper Fast made up the second line; Phil DiGiuseppe, Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko were the third line, and the fourth line saw Greg McKegg, Brett Howden, Julien Gauthier and extra forward Brendan Lemieux — who is suspended for the first two games against Carolina — rotating shifts.
Chytil, the 20-year-old Czech who was a first-round pick in 2017, and Kakko, the 19-year-old Finn who was the No. 2 overall pick in the NHL draft last summer, drew praise from Quinn. Chytil scored the Rangers’ only goal, at 16:22 of the third period, on a pass from Fast, and Kakko was tied with Fast for the most shots on goal (four). Quinn moved Kakko around, getting a look at him for several shifts on the second line, with Panarin and Strome, and a couple shifts on the first line, as well.
Libor Hajek was dressed as the extra defenseman, and he didn’t play much in the first two periods, but took Marc Staal’s spot next to Tony DeAngelo in the third period. Under the NHL’s new policy regarding reporting injuries, Quinn isn’t allowed to say what Staal’s injury is, but he did say after the game that he isn’t in danger of not playing on Saturday.
Notes & quotes: Before the game, the Rangers announced that Panarin was voted the team’s Most Valuable Player and Fast, for a team record fifth consecutive year, was chosen by his teammates as the team’s Player’s Player. Kreider was selected by the Professional Hockey Writers Association as the team’s Good Guy, for his cooperation with the media all season.