Toronto hosts The Battle of New York as the Rangers take on the Islanders in what will be the only exhibition game before facing the Carolina Hurricanes in the play-in round (8:00 P.M. ET, MSG).
March 11th was the last time I was able to write a pregame article and now New York Ranger hockey is finally back on July 29th. Back in March, the Blueshirts were defeated by the Avalanche 3-2 in overtime. The key thing to remember from that game is that Brendan Lemieux received a two-game suspension for a hit on Joonas Donskoi. Lemieux will play in tonight’s warm-up game but will sit in games one and two against Carolina.
Chris Kreider was not available for the game due to a foot injury and was likely going to miss the rest of the regular season if it finished as normal. Kreider is healthy and is expected to rejoin Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich on the top line.
Since March 11th, the world went on hold as the pandemic took a hit across the globe. Players and staff returned to their homes for the season pause. In phases, the NHL slowly reopened and players started to return home. Soon enough, players were back in training camps and now playoff teams are in a bubble in Toronto or Edmonton for the playoffs. The bubble is an area in each city where players are not allowed to leave under any circumstance without facing consequences along with the team. In addition, no one from the outside will be allowed in the bubble. This has proven to work in the MLS as they are having a summer tournament and have had no cases in over two weeks. The Rangers will be in Toronto where they will remain up until the conclusion of the Eastern Conference final unless eliminated in a prior round. If the Rangers were to make it to the Stanley Cup finals, they will travel to Edmonton to face the winner of the Western Conference.
Now in Toronto, the Rangers are gearing up for a run at the Stanley Cup which starts with an exhibition game against the Islanders. And despite the unusual circumstances including no fans in the arena, the Blueshirts are preparing as if all is normal.
“No matter how unique the circumstances or how much your personal life may take a hit, it’s important to just embrace the experience,” said Ryan Strome. “It’s a privilege to play in the playoffs in this league.”
Head coach David Quinn won’t announce his starting goalie for the playoffs until just prior to the game or the day before. It appears Alex Georgiev will be the team’s third-string goaltender. Henrik Lundqvist and Igor Shesterkin will likely split Wednesday night’s contest before one is chosen as the team’s starter against the Hurricanes.
The Blueshirts are expected to run similar lines from just before the season went on hold. Each team will dress 13 forwards and seven defensemen.
“This is not training camp,” said Quinn. “We’re trying to win a Stanley Cup. We really liked our team when this whole thing ended”
While it’s no secret that the Rangers and Islanders are not friends, it will be interesting to see how physical this game gets. In a normal preseason game, tempers and adrenaline would not be boiling, but this is no preseason game and teams are hoping this gets them up to game speed. At the same time, no one wants to suffer an injury right before the tournament begins.
“You could sense the energy and the excitement in our practice today – guys are looking forward to playing an opponent who’s not on their own team,” Quinn said after practice on Tuesday.
In other Rangers news, Artemi Panarin has won the team MVP award. Panarin finished the season with 95 points and is a finalist for the Ted Lindsay Award (the most outstanding player in the NHL), and the Hart Trophy (league MVP).
Jesper Fast has won the player’s player award for the Rangers. The award is given annually to each player who “best exemplifies what it means to be a team player.” The 28-year-old has now won the award in five-straight seasons – the first time any player has done that in Rangers history.