You can tell it is the playoffs when normally relaxed coaches suddenly get tight-lipped about things they never have a problem sharing in the regular season – such as, who is starting in goal for Game 1 of your playoff series?
“We will announce our goalie before the game tomorrow,’’ Rangers coach David Quinn said on his media Zoom call Friday.
The affable Quinn usually doesn’t mind announcing his starting goaltender the day before a game during the regular season. But this isn’t the regular season. When the Rangers take on the Carolina Hurricanes at noon Saturday in Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena, to kick off the NHL’s return to play from the league’s COVID-19 pandemic-caused shutdown, it will be Game 1 of a best-of-five play-in series to see which team will advance to the league’s regular 16-team playoffs.
The league restarts Saturday after more than four-and-a-half months since games were last played. The league shut down on March 12 but it resumes now, with the goal of crowning a Stanley Cup champion by early October. Twenty-four teams – 12 each in one of two neutral sites, either Edmonton or Toronto – return, with teams playing games inside a “bubble’’ created by the league and designed to keep the players safe from the coronavirus. The Eastern Conference teams are in Toronto, and the Rangers, 37-28-5 in the regular season, are the No. 11 seed. Carolina, 38-25-5, is No. 6.
Quinn wouldn’t say Friday whether he will stay with Russian rookie Igor Shesterkin as his No. 1 goaltender, or turn to franchise icon Henrik Lundqvist, who has dominated the Hurricanes over his 15-year career. Both were excellent during the two-week training camp the Rangers had before entering the bubble in Toronto (as was third goalie Alexandar Georgiev). The way Quinn doled out ice time in the second week of camp, though, and the things he said, indicated he likely will start Shesterkin, who was 10-2, with a 2.52 goals-against average and .932 save percentage during the season.
That’s what MSG TV Rangers analyst Joe Micheletti thinks, anyway.
“The way David has talked about … keeping the lines the same, keeping the defense pairings the same, his response is, ‘I’m not going to forget the previous two-and-a-half months before we stopped,’’’ Micheletti said in a telephone interview with Newsday this week. “So, if that’s part of your thesis, then how can he forget what Shesterkin gave you when your team was 10 or 12 points out of a playoff spot? And the spark that he gave you?’’
While Quinn knows which goaltender he intends to start Saturday, he is uncertain about the status of defenseman Tony DeAngelo, who missed practice Friday. Whether DeAngelo – the point man on the first power play unit and the team’s top scoring defenseman (15 goals, 38 assists, 53 points) – plays will be a game-time decision, Quinn said. If DeAngelo can’t play, rookie Libor Hajek is likely to take his spot in the lineup.
Carolina, meanwhile, will be without two of its top defensemen, Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce, at least for Game 1. Hamilton has been ruled out for Saturday with an injury that caused him to miss several days of practice, while Pesce didn’t travel with the team to Toronto.
Blue shorts: The Rangers announced they have signed Cornell University forward Morgan Barron to an entry level contract, beginning in 2020-21. The 6-4, 220-pound Barron, a sixth-round draft pick in 2017, had 14 goals, 18 assists (32 points) in 29 games in 2019-20 and was named the ECAC Hockey Player of the Year. He was also a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, given to the top player in college hockey.