The NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers kick off the Return to Play plan on August 1. This week, PHT will be previewing each series with a look at storylines and end with our predictions for the eight matchups.
Saturday, Aug. 1: Rangers vs. Hurricanes, 12 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Monday, Aug. 3: Rangers vs. Hurricanes, 12 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Hurricanes vs. Rangers, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Thursday, Aug. 6: Hurricanes vs. Rangers*
Saturday, Aug. 8: Rangers vs. Hurricanes*
Hurricanes-Rangers preview: Top storylines for Stanley Cup Qualifiers series
Goalie decisions loom
Reimer (24 starts) didn’t play as much as Mrazek (38 starts), but he did post the better even strength save percentage (.920 vs. .912), per Natural Stat Trick. Same goes for the Rangers rookie who came on late in the season making 12 starts and posting a .931 ESSV% vs. Lundqvist’s .917. But in a best-of-five series, how much will Rod Brind’Amour and David Quinn weigh regular season success against experience?
This could be Lundqvist’s last run with the Rangers. One stat on his side to be the Game 1 starter is his regular season success against the Hurricanes. He won all three starts against Carolina, stopping at least 39 shots in each game and recorded a .947 save percentage.
Mrazek was the guy in net as the Hurricanes marched to the Eastern Conference Final a year ago. His experience and regular-season workload gives him the edge over Reimer. Whatever Brind’Amour’s choice, the Carolina defense will certainly help in the shot suppressing department (23 shots allowed/game at 5-on-5).
Quality vs. quantity shots
The Hurricanes not only move the puck well via their talented blue line, they also love to shoot it. Since Brind’Amour took over as head coach in 2018-19, only three NHL teams have more shots (3,970) on goal at even strength. They are the best possession team (55% Corsi) over that time as well, were third (54%) this season, and were third in high-danger scoring chances in 2019-20 (663).
New York didn’t shoot as much as Carolina, but capitalized more at even strength. They were just ahead of the Canes in high-danger goals for (90-87) and 5-on-5 goals (150-141). Leading the way were Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad, who combined for 40 EV goals this season.
Depth stepping up
The Rangers’ dynamic duo were unstoppable during the regular season. Panarin, a worthy finalist for the Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award, put up 95 points in his first season in New York. Zibanejad was limited to just 57 games but still scored 41 times. There is some secondary scoring that can be provided by Chris Kreider, Ryan Strome, and Pavel Buchnevich. Beyond that? A pair of 10-plus goal scorers, including rookie Kaapo Kakko. It’s hard to rely on two lines to provide the bulk of your production.
It was at the trade deadline that the Hurricanes bulked up adding not only to their defense with Brady Skjei and Sami Vatanen, but also Vincent Trocheck up front. Factor in the January return of Justin Williams and there’s enough balance up front to lead this team.
Who’s out? Who might return?
Hurricanes: Dougie Hamilton was injured during Phase 3 and he has joined the team in Toronto. There is no update on how much time he might miss. The defenseman was out for 21 games during the regular season after breaking his left fibula. Forward Martin Necas has missed the last few days after, according to Brind’Amour, he “did something while he was skating around.”
Rangers: K’Andre Miller signed his entry-level contract and participated in Phase 3, but is ineligible to play and will not be with the team in Toronto. Brendan Lemieux‘s suspension was finally announced this month and he’ll sit for the first two games of the series.
Mixing in the newbies
Trocheck and Skjei only played seven games following their trades from Florida and the Rangers, respectively. That’s not much time to settle in and learn a new system and familiarize yourself with new teammates. That’s what made Phase 3 so important. Incorporating the new guys into the fold, especially when this training camp leads into meaningful games and not early-season sleepers, was vital.
Skjei has certainly provided as much intel as he can to the Hurricanes’ coaching staff. He’s already said he has “a ton of motivation and a chip on my shoulder” going into the series. He may have friends on the other side of the ice, but those relationships will disappear when puck drops for real.
Hurricanes vs. Rangers: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifier Preview originally appeared on NBCSports.com