Marc Staal avoids big injury in Rangers’ loss to Islanders
All that anyone truly wanted out of this exhibition match was to come out of it healthy. It appears as if, after a scare, that the Rangers met that objective.
For though Marc Staal, the Blueshirt with 104 games of Stanley Cup playoff experience, left Wednesday’s 2-1 defeat to the Islanders in Toronto after the second period and did not return, he should be good to go for Saturday’s Game 1 against Carolina.
“It was just precautionary,” David Quinn said when asked about the issue. “[He’ll be OK.]”
The next time, of course, it will be for real for the Rangers, who were relatively lukewarm in their warm-up on Wednesday, not that anyone should read too much of anything into this first game in 141 days, and one that was played without a fan in the stands.
The pace was reasonably good even if the Blueshirts’ top skill guys such as Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad often did look as if they were playing their first game in four-plus months. Same for Chris Kreider, who hadn’t been in a competitive situation on the ice since breaking his foot in Philadelphia on Feb. 28.
Fact is, and this is an observation rather than a critique, Panarin has been rather pedestrian since the Blueshirts officially reconvened on July 13. One presumes this is an example of a splendid athlete knowing his body and his capabilities as he builds toward Saturday, but the Rangers quite clearly are going to need their Hart Trophy finalist to hit the ice running when the puck drops just after noon on Saturday.
Igor Shesterkin was barely tested in his prep work for Saturday’s expected Game 1 start, allowing one goal on a close-range Anthony Beauvillier two-on-one midway through the second period while facing a sum of seven shots in 29:15. The Beauvillier goal, a short sider to the stick side, was created by an Andy Greene stretch pass that caught Adam Fox up ice. The goal came on the Islanders’ first shot of the period.
Henrik Lundqvist, who relieved Shesterkin, was outstanding, beaten only by Devon Toews on a right-wing wrister off the rush with under five minutes to play in the third period. This represented a carryover from camp, throughout which the King was extremely sharp.
Lundqvist has started the Rangers’ last 127 playoff games, dating back to the 2006 Game 2 of the first round against the Devils. Qualifying-round games will not be counted as playoff games, so the streak will live, technically, even if Lundqvist is on the bench when the puck drops Saturday.
Kaapo Kakko played with the same confidence and touch of swagger he displayed throughout the Blueshirts’ two-week summer camp. David Quinn elevated Kakko, who has become a shoot-first, north-south player, to the second line with Panarin and Ryan Strome for a handful of shifts in the first period. The 19-year-old Finn worked well with third-line pivot Filip Chytil in creating second-period scoring chances against Semyon Varlamov.
And it was Chytil driving to the net to bury Jesper Fast’s second shot with 3:38 remaining in the match to bring the Blueshirts within 2-1. The Rangers have been a top-heavy, top-six team throughout the season. If Kid Kakko and Kid Chytil can create a dangerous third line, that would most certainly change the dynamic.