Brady Skjei wasn’t known as an especially physical player when he was with the Rangers, but the 26-year-old defenseman, who was traded by the Blueshirts to Carolina at the trade deadline in February, delivered the most significant hit Saturday in an extremely physical game between the Rangers and Hurricanes when he checked former teammate Jesper Fast hard in the neutral zone 32 seconds into Game 1, knocking Fast out of the game.
It was a stunning way to start for the Rangers, and coach David Quinn said it definitely played a part in how the game turned out.
“Without question,’’ Quinn said. “There's no doubt that when you give up a goal a minute [and one] seconds into the period, and you lose [Fast], that it has an emotional effect on your team. They get the goal because [Fast] really -- doesn't have his wits about him, [Carolina’s Jaccob] Slavin goes back door . . . A play [Fast] usually makes, he's just not mentally ready to make it. He's hurt, so they get the first goal.’’
“The first period was [like] a boxing match, back and forth with big hits and, obviously that goal,’’ goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. “[Fast] is kind of out of it, you can tell, right before the goal. It wasn't the start we were looking for.’’
Quinn did not answer a question about Fast’s status for Game 2. If he is unfit to play, rookie Kaapo Kakko will likely move up from the third line to take Fast’s spot on the second line with Ryan Strome and Artemi Panarin. Julien Gauthier could move from the fourth line to the third line . . . The Rangers were credited with 40 hits, led by Brett Howden, who had nine. The Hurricanes had 28. The teams also combined for 42 minutes in penalties (21 each) and there was a first period fight between Strome and Carolina’s Justin Williams. Both players landed lots of heavy punches, and Strome was bloodied in the fight . . . D Tony DeAngelo, who did not practice Friday and was a game-time decision, according to Quinn, played 19:23. He had two shots on goal and two penalty minutes.