Hartnett: Youthful Rangers Must Learn From Playoff Ouster

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By WFAN Sports Radio 101.9 FM/66AM New York

In the end, the swept Rangers played exactly like a team that only reached the Toronto bubble by the virtue of an expanded 24-team playoff format. Puck don’t lie.

Four goals scored in three games doesn’t cut it. A 1-for-14 power play doesn’t cut it. Allowing 34 shots per game to Carolina – the same average that ranked the Blueshirts second-highest in the league during the 2019-20 regular season isn’t acceptable. The Rangers’ miniscule 29.3 shots for per game generated this series would have tied for 29th of 31 teams during the regular season.

The Blueshirts spent too much of this series pinned deep in their own end, turned over the puck too often, frequently chased around recklessly looking to deliver a big hit and struggled to unlock the disciplined and structurally-sound Hurricanes.

These are all signs of an inexperienced team being guided by an inexperienced head coach. Eleven Rangers made their debut in the 2020 playoffs. This was David Quinn’s postseason baptism by fire. Quinn admitted after Tuesday’s 4-1 defeat that his team only played two good periods during the entire series.

“We basically played two good periods out of nine,” Quinn said.

Again, that’s not acceptable, even considering the Rangers’ youth-leaning roster. The collective talent of Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Jacob Trouba, Tony DeAngelo and Co. should have been able to go toe-to-toe with the Canes more often and won more battles. This team shouldn’t have sleepwalked through the series’ first two games before finding their pulse in Game 3.

“It was the first time in three games we started playing hockey,” Kreider said. “We actually looked like the Rangers for a little bit.”

A shortened, best-of-five series can yield unpredictable and sometimes cruel results – but the 2019-20 Rangers were nowhere close to being in the same league as the Hurricanes. Zibanejad pointed to an inability to play in five-man units. The goaltending tandem of Henrik Lundqvist and Igor Shesterkin weren’t given any chance by teammates who handled the puck like a grenade and offered Carolina skaters acres of ice to operate.

The one-sided series was proof that the Rangers are still a long way from being legitimate contenders and illuminated the need for general manager Jeff Gorton to add reinforcements.

No one is calling for a major roster overhaul. Shesterkin, Panarin, Zibanejad, Kreider, Adam Fox and Kaapo Kakko are among the valuable pieces to build around. Yet, there’s going to be a genuine need for an all-around, all-situation defensive leader and a No. 2 center that’s a clear upgrade over Ryan Strome.

It’s not just the roster that requires improvement. Quinn must learn from this experience and come back next season with fresh ideas and a better eye toward in-game adjustments. There wasn’t a Plan B when the power play fizzled and breakouts were botched. His overreliance on Brett Howden was confusing. Worse off, his decision to trot out Brendan Smith and Brendan Lemieux while chasing a two-goal lead with two minutes left in an elimination game was confounding.

In the months ahead, the Rangers must learn from the harsh lessons of their three-game playoff ouster.

Follow Sean on Twitter -- @HartnettHockey