The Rangers are in Raleigh, North Carolina to take on the Hurricanes where many questions about their future will be answered on the lineup sheet (7:00 P.M. ET, MSG2).
Wednesday night, the Rangers began their mom trip in Chicago where they were victorious 6-3. After being tied 1-1 entering the third period, the Blueshirts used a five-goal third period to run away with the game. The Rangers got goals from Filip Chytil, Pavel Buchnevich, Ryan Strome, Chris Kreider, Artemi Panarin, and Mika Zibanejad. Igor Shesterkin improved to 7-1-0 after a 37 save performance in the Windy City.
“There’s a really good feeling that locker room,” said head coach David Quinn. “I’ve talked about this for a while now: We’ve really become a team over the last two months.”
“It’s always fun to win,” Kreider said. “We want to do it playing the right way.”
“Our guys are excited about the game Friday night because it’s going to be a playoff game for us in a lot of ways,” Quinn said.
With the trade deadline looming, the Rangers will play arguably their most important game since ‘The Letter’ that announced the Rangers would be rebuilding just over two years ago. The Hurricanes currently hold the final wild card position and the Rangers trail them by just six points entering the game.
Newly acquired, Julien Gauthier will get a chance at an immediate revenge game. Gauthier was acquired this past Tuesday from the Hurricanes in exchange for Joey Keane. Gauthier who was a first round pick by the Hurricanes, will be looking to show that they should have given him the chance at the NHL level.
The players would love a chance to make a playoff push given how good they’ve played lately. However, everyone knows that the Rangers can’t afford to resign everybody and that General Manager Jeff Gorton has some tough decisions to make.
With a game against the San Jose Sharks the next night, the lineup Quinn puts forward these next two nights will tell you a lot about the Rangers future. First, playing in their most important game in over two years, who will Quinn elect to start? Does Quinn ride the hot hand in Shesterkin or does Quinn turn to veteran netminder Henrik Lundqvist who has played and won many important games during his career.
Lundqvist hasn’t started any of the teams past eight games and hasn’t started since February 3rd in a 5-3 defeat to Dallas. Another argument for starting Lundqvist is his success against the Hurricanes. The soon to be 38-year-old has won all three starts against the Hurricanes this season and has had no worse than a .929 save percentage in those games. Some may wonder, if you can’t start Lundqvist against the Hurricanes, who can you start him against?
With the scenario being a back-to-back it is likely that none of the three Ranger goalies will play both games. The likely options are either Lundqvist followed by Shesterkin or Shesterkin followed by Alexander Georgiev.
The Rangers lineup will also tell another story in terms of the healthy scratches. If Quinn is given the option, he will do his job and play the lineup he thinks gives them the best chance of winning. However, Gorton may think he is close to a deal and could tell Quinn he may not be allowed to play a certain player to make sure they don’t get injured. If any “everyday” player is a healthy scratch, it will tell the story that the Rangers are in asset management. If Gorton doesn’t think resigning Kreider is a possibility, will he let Quinn play him and risk an injury to their most valuable trade asset? Stay tuned for Rangers practice and Quinn’s talk to the media following practice and before the game. These next two days will tell you something one way or another.
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