The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2022 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ll break down the NHL playoff games today with the all-important television information.
• Check in with all of Saturday’s NHL Stanley Cup playoff action with the NHL Rink Wrap right here.
• Nick Paul‘s two goals helped power the Lightning to a Game 7 win over the Maple Leafs.
• Max Domi was the hero as the Hurricanes topped the Bruins and will face either the Penguins or Rangers in the Second Round.
It is not difficult to see which team has been better at even-strength through the first six games of the Penguins-Rangers series. It is Pittsburgh, and by a pretty significant margin. You can see it on the ice, and the numbers back it up.
Pittsburgh has a 53% share of the shot attempts. It has a 62 percent share of the expected goals (the top mark in the league), a 58 percent share of the scoring chances, and a 66 percent share of high-danger scoring chances. Oh, and they have also outscored the Rangers 20-14 during 5-on-5 play. Sidney Crosby was getting most of the attention prior to his injury in Game 5 (and for good reason) but the rest of the forward lines and defense have been carrying their share of the weight as well.
Based on 5-on-5 play, this series should probably already be over.
But the game is a lot more than just 5-on-5 play. Goaltending and special teams play a pretty big role as well, and that is where the Rangers have made up their ground to erase a 3-1 series deficit and send it to a winner-take-all Game 7 on Sunday night (7 p.m. ET; TBS, SNE, SNO, SNP, SN360).
Let’s start with the goaltending.
This was always going to be the Rangers’ big advantage. Igor Shesterkin is the best goalie in the league this season, the likely Vezina Trophy winner, and a Hart Trophy finalist. He is the biggest reason the Rangers had the success they had this season.
Pittsburgh, meanwhile, opened the series without starting goalie Tristan Jarry and then lost backup Casey DeSmith for the remainder of the playoffs in the second overtime of Game 1, leaving its net in the hands of Louis Domingue. Domingue stopped all 17 shots in his first appearance to help backstop the Penguins to a 4-3 triple overtime win and has had to start ever since. It has not gone great.
While Shesterkin has not played to his normal level, he has still outplayed Domingue by a fairly substantial margin, especially when you consider the workload each team has asked of their goalie. Domingue has managed only an .888 save percentage in his five starts, and allowed a couple of brutal goals in the Rangers’ 5-3 Game 6 win, including the game-winner with just over a minute to play in regulation.
The Penguins need one of two things in Game 7: Either a healthy Jarry that can play a strong game, or more from Domingue. That may seem unfair to be asking for more from your third-string goalie, but the Penguins are not really asking for that much. They have mostly insulated him in this series defensively, and he has at least some track record of success in the NHL. He has 150 games of NHL experience under his belt, and at times has played very well. He has two seasons with at least 35 appearances and a save percentage of .910 or better. They are not asking for games to be stolen. They are just asking for some saves. Shesterkin is not going to keep giving up three or four goals every game, and the Penguins at some point are going to need to keep the Rangers to under four goals if they are going to win.
Then there are the special teams.
The Rangers’ power play has been magnificent in this series, scoring on five its 15 opportunities. It won Game 5 with a third period goal, and helped swing Game 6 when Mike Zibanejad scored just five seconds into a power play after an Evan Rodrigues retaliation penalty. It is not just goaltending that is hurting the Penguins here, either. New York is getting a ton of good looks and scoring chances with the man-advantage. Pittsburgh’s penalty kill was one of the best in the league during the regular season, but it has not had an answer for the Rangers power play in the first six games.
On the other side, Pittsburgh’s power play has come up small in a couple of very big situations the past two games. They opened Game 5 with a full two-minute, 5-on-3 advantage, and not only did not score a goal, they managed just a single goal. In Game 6, with the game tied 2-2 in the second period, they got another extended 5-on-3 advantage (for over a minute) and failed to register a single shot on goal. Even worse, that came after a timeout to try and set things up. Even worse than that, they allowed the Rangers to get two shorthanded scoring chances. You have to be better there.
That is the story of the series as it heads to Game 7 on Sunday night. The Penguins have owned during 5-on-5 play. The Rangers have been better in goal and on special teams. Those storylines continue for one more game, not difficult to see where the result goes.
NHL PLAYOFF GAMES TODAY
Game 7: Pittsburgh Penguins at New York Rangers, 7 p.m. ET; TBS, SNE, SNO, SNP, SN360 (Series tied 3-3): There is always the chance the Penguins could get Sidney Crosby and/or Rickard Rakell back for this game, but even if they do it might not matter if they do not get significantly better goaltending than they have so far. You also have to expect that Shesterkin is going to have a really strong game at some point. Everything is lining up perfectly for the Rangers here.
Game 7: Dallas Stars vs. Calgary Flames, 9:30 p.m. ET; ESPN2, SN, TVAS (Series tied 3-3): Then we have the fifth Game 7 of the weekend in Calgary. This has been one of the more interesting series to this point because it started off as a complete drag. It was all defense, no offense, and one team scoring the first goal and then slowing the game down to a crawl. But over time the two teams have developed quite a hatred for each other, the pace has rapidly picked up, leads have changed hands, and there has been some sensational goaltending from Jacob Markstrom (Calgary) and Jake Oettinger (Dallas). When the Stars do make the playoffs they always seem to find a way to disrupt things and go much further than anybody ever expected them to go. They have a pretty good chance of doing that again this season in this series.