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NHL playoffs preview: Rangers-Hurricanes series looking like an under-the-radar gem

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Given some of the great rivalries we will see in Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the series between the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers is one that seems to be flying under the radar. Despite it receiving less recognition, it should be a great matchup between two teams that had very similar regular-season records.

By the time the 2021-22 campaign came to a close, the Hurricanes had clinched the Metropolitan Division thanks to an outstanding 54-20-8 record. While many expected a dominant season like the one they put on, very few, if any, expected the Rangers to finish in near proximity with a 52-24-6 mark. After missing the playoffs entirely in 2020-21, this is a highly motivated Rangers group and one that will be looking to exact revenge on the team that eliminated them in the opening round of the 2020 playoffs.

Let's take a closer look at the series.

The Hurricanes and Rangers should deliver a tight matchup in the second round of the NHL playoffs. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The Hurricanes and Rangers should deliver a tight matchup in the second round of the NHL playoffs. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Rangers Breakdown

While both these teams possess several offensive talents, most would agree the Rangers have more star power. Up front, they are led by Artemi Panarin, who is coming off a career best 96-point campaign. He is far from the only Ranger who had personal success this season, as Mika Zibanejad also established a career high with 81 points, while Chris Kreider scored 52 goals after having never cracked the 30-goal barrier in any of his previous eight seasons.

On the back end, the Rangers have the reigning Norris Trophy winner in Adam Fox, who managed 74 points on the year, and also have Jacob Trouba who can play a ton of minutes and chip in with the offence as well, having put up 39 points of his own. Despite all of their talent up front, as well as on the blue line, their biggest star is the man between the pipes in Igor Shesterkin.

Shesterkin, 26, is being considered the unanimous Vezina Trophy winner this season after posting a ridiculous 2.07 goals-against average (GAA) along with a .935 save percentage (SV%) in 53 games. Not only are those Vezina-type numbers, but they were also good enough to get himself nominated for the Hart Trophy. Despite a bit of a shaky start during his team's opening-round series versus the Pittsburgh Penguins, he came up big when it mattered most and figures to be very tricky for the Hurricanes to solve.

Hurricanes Breakdown

Though this Hurricanes roster may not possess one truly elite superstar like many other teams have, there may not be a more complete lineup in the entire league. They have plenty of players capable of providing offence in Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, Teuvo Teravainen and Vincent Trocheck.

As for their defense corps, they have who many consider to be the game's most underrated defenseman in Jaccob Slavin, a player who may very well have a Norris Trophy of his own if he were able to add a little more offense to his game. Speaking of offense from the back end, Tony DeAngelo has fit like a glove on this Hurricanes team, recording 51 points in just 64 regular-season games. He hasn’t slowed down in the playoffs, either, as he has eight points through the opening six contests.

The biggest question for this Canes team heading into Round 2 is between the pipes. Frederik Andersen was outstanding during his first regular season in Raleigh, registering a 2.17 GAA along with a .922 SV% in 52 games. Unfortunately, a lower-body injury sidelined him for the entire first round, and it sounds as though he may miss at least the beginning of this series. If that is the case, Antti Raanta will continue to be the go-to guy, which may not prove to be an issue given the fact he was rock-solid in the Hurricanes' first-round defeat of the Boston Bruins, posting a 2.37 GAA along with a .927 SV%.

Regular Season Head-to-Head

These two teams met four times during the regular season, with the Hurricanes walking away with victories in three. Outside of the first game, which the Canes won by a decisive 6-3 final, these two were tightly contested when matched against one another, something we can expect to see throughout the entirety of this series.

Leading the way for the Hurricanes in those four games was Aho, who had seven points. On the other side, it was Kreider who had the most success with six points of his own. One thing to pay attention to is that Panarin really struggled against the Canes this season, recording just one assist despite suiting up in all four contests. Granted, that is a small sample size, but perhaps Rod Brind’Amour and his coaching staff have found a way to shut down the Russian superstar.

Injury Updates

As mentioned, there is plenty of doubt as to whether Andersen will be able to suit up during this series. While it does sound like he is progressing, he is expected to miss the opening two games at the very least. He isn’t the only questionable Hurricane, as forward Jordan Martinook has not played since Game 3 of the first round due to a lower-body ailment.

The Rangers are not fully healthy right now, either, though to a lesser extent. Two-time Stanley Cup winner Barclay Goodrow was injured in Game 1 versus the Penguins and has not played since. He will miss the first two games of this series, but no further update has been given.

Interesting Storylines

Perhaps the most intriguing thing of all when it comes to this series is the fact that DeAngelo will be up against his former team. The offensively gifted defenseman had a very unceremonious departure from the Rangers after reportedly having an altercation with backup netminder Alexander Georgiev after an overtime loss to the Penguins early into the 2020-21 season. That incident, paired with several other off-ice issues, led to management choosing to send DeAngelo home for the remainder of the year before buying him out.

Given the controversy that has surrounded his name for several years, many wondered whether or not a team would give DeAngelo a shot as a free agent this past offseason. The Hurricanes decided to do just that, giving him a one-year, $1-million deal. By all accounts he has been a great teammate while also performing extremely well on the ice. That said, he can still have a short wick at times, and it will be interesting to see whether or not his former teammates are able to get under his skin and throw him off his game.

Another interesting tidbit is that these two teams are meeting for just the second time ever in the playoffs, with the other coming in the qualifying round in 2020. Things didn’t go the Rangers' way at all in the shortened best-of-five, as they were dominated in nearly every aspect and ended up being swept 3-0. Things should be more evened out this year, as this New York team is much-improved from what it was just two seasons ago.

Regardless of the final outcome, this projects to be a fantastic series in a playoff year that has already had plenty of them.

Prediction

Hurricanes in seven.

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