The Kids were perhaps the best Rangers on the ice on Wednesday, a little more than okay, and yes, that was a necessity in the Blueshirts’ 2-1 overtime loss to the Hurricanes.
Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour, who had the last change with Game 1 in Raleigh, NC, decided to try to take out the Rangers’ top line with his line of control. Space, in general, was at a premium in this one, and the second row had a mostly nondescript night.
That left the Rangers’ Kid Line to try to generate a big chunk of the offense for the Blueshirts. At this point, however, “Kid Line” might be the wrong nickname. In these playoffs, Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko have grown fast. Wednesday was the last evidence.
There was a goal early in the first period, Chytil’s second of the postseason, followed by a game in which the trio outplayed their opponent for almost the entirety of their time on the ice.
“We just play our game,” Chytil said. “Just moving your feet.”
Lafreniere spent much of the season going back and forth between the lines as the Rangers tried to find the perfect fit for the former No. 1 overall pick. The same goes for Chytil, though he doesn’t have the same pedigree as Lafreniere. Kakko played only 43 games, missing most of the season finale.
Coming into the playoffs, the Rangers’ top six were supposed to be a sure thing. Instead, it has been the third row, which at the end of regulation on Wednesday had an expected goals percentage of 81.94, according to Natural Stat Trick, that has consistently outperformed its opposition.
There are still moments to dwell on – Kakko’s failure to convert into an open net late in the third period in particular – but the fact remains that Rangers had the better of this game for most of the night thanks in no small part. to his Young Arms.
“We only have one [goal]”, said Chytil, “but we can take a lot of positive aspects to another game and develop this game”.
If you walk away for a moment, and it’s hard to do in the middle of a playoff run, the Rangers’ future is at least a little cloudy due to their reliance on goalie Igor Shesterkin this season. Much of this core’s future comes down to whether Shesterkin can replicate his 2021-22 campaign, or whether the Rangers can find a way to do a better job against him than they have for most of this season.
And then there is the matter of the Kid Line: the first three rounds, with Lafreniere and Kakko as the top two picks. At this time, at least, they are giving a forceful response.