The Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers will play each other in the best-of-5 Qualifying Round when the NHL season resumes. Though there is no date for the games to start, two NHL.com writers have already started the debate over which team has the edge in the series.
Amalie Benjamin, staff writer
I’m all-in on the Carolina Hurricanes in this matchup. The Hurricanes are one several teams who got closer to full strength during the pause, and defensemen Dougie Hamilton and Sami Vatanen will be ready to return from injury. That’s one heck of a defense, and one I think can stand up to anything the New York Rangers throw at them, even if the Hurricanes will have to integrate Vatanen on the fly. Combine those additions with the experience gained by reaching the Eastern Conference Final last season, and I think the Hurricanes take out the upstarts from New York.
Tom Gulitti, staff writer
The healthier Hurricanes would be a challenge for any team, but I will go with the no-longer-rebuilding Rangers in this series. Although the Rangers had the second youngest roster in the NHL with an average age of 26, they were playing like one of the best teams in the League before the pause and were 4-0-0 against the Hurricanes this season. With left wing Artemi Panarin and center Mika Zibanejad leading the way, New York went 14-7-1 from Jan. 31-March 11, including 9-1-0 from Feb 9-27, to climb from 11 points behind the Hurricanes to within two. And like the Hurricanes, the Rangers will be healthier when play resumes with left wing Chris Kreider expected back from a broken foot.
That’s all true, Tom. And I know there’s a sense that the younger the team, the better able they might be to bounce back from the pause, so this absolutely will be a tough matchup for the Hurricanes. I think it will be a difficult series, but experience might also be important, given the unknown in this unprecedented situation. The Hurricanes seem to be reborn a dangerous team in this new era for them, and I think they’ll be able to recapture a bit of that magic, even if they have to face a dynamic offensive force in the Rangers and their impressive weapons.
Whichever team finds its game quicker coming out of the pause will have the advantage in this best-of-5 series. As Amalie mentioned, that might help the young Rangers. But I think the difference will be in goal, which remains the biggest question mark for Carolina. Although Petr Mrazek will probably get the call at the start, it wouldn’t surprise me to see James Reimer at some point because of Mrazek’s inconsistency. For New York, it will likely be impressive rookie Igor Shesterkin for Game 1 with Alexandar Georgiev ready to step in, and 38-year-old Henrik Lundqvist in reserve. This will be the opportunity for Shesterkin (10-2-0, 2.52 goals-against average, .932 save percentage) to take the torch from Lundqvist and run with it.