The Wraparound: Gallant’s first Rangers run looks a lot like Golden Knights debut

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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.

•  The Avalanche are going to the Stanley Cup Final after defeating the Oilers, 6-5, in overtime to complete their sweep Monday night.

•  In Game 3, the Lightning rallied from down 2-0 to beat the Rangers in a thriller. Now the defending repeat champions aim to tie the series in Game 4 on Tuesday.

•  Stunningly, the Bruins decided to fire head coach Bruce Cassidy on Monday.

When you paint in broad strokes, the Rangers’ first season under Gerard Gallant sure looks a lot like the Golden Knights’ smash-success debut campaign. Yes, that’s a really good thing — for Gallant, and for the Rangers.

Just think of some of the similarities:

  • Both teams were powered by elite goaltending. Despite some injuries, Marc-Andre Fleury delivered the Golden Knights incredible value in 2017-18.
  • Each team enjoyed success far earlier than expected. Granted, with the Golden Knights it was … what, maybe a half-decade sooner than expected? But the thought remains.
  • Both the Golden Knights and Rangers carried some of the head-lockin’ attitude of Gerard Gallant.

Finally, the first-season Golden Knights and the first-Gallant-season Rangers both inspired people to wonder “Just how real are these successes?”

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 schedule, TV info]

It would be silly to say that the 2017-18 Golden Knights enjoyed nothing but luck.

They weren’t even in the top five in PDO, a stat that combines save percentage and shooting percentage to give a crude look a teams who were lucky in a way that may not be sustainable. At one point, their goalies were only slightly safer than Spinal Tap drummers.

Yet, right from the start, the Golden Knights found ways to win. At times, that meant James Neal scoring game-winning goals. If you want one player to symbolize Vegas’ early mix of luck and skill, consider William Karlsson. In two previous seasons with the Blue Jackets, Karlsson played 81 games apiece, and scored 20 and 25 points. In his first Golden Knights season, Karlsson scored 43 goals and 79 points, riding an unsustainable 23.4 shooting percentage.

Were the Golden Knights bad during their first season? No, they just weren’t necessarily the dominant group you’d expect to tear its way to a Stanley Cup Final. Glance at Evolving Hockey’s Team RAPM chart from that first season:

That said, it’s a testament to Gallant and other Golden Knights front office members just how competent they were, right off the bat.

Now, this Rangers team during their first season under Gallant? This team’s more vulnerable to critiques about riding a mix of luck, special teams, and the otherworldly goaltending of Igor Shesterkin.

[NHL Power Rankings: Most intriguing restricted free agent situations]

Here’s the thing about the Gallant-era Golden Knights. After arguably being a “paper tiger” during that debut run to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, the Golden Knights became a puck-hogging machine.

Hockey Viz’s 5-on-5 charts … visualize how well some teams protect and attack the high-danger areas. During the regular season, the Rangers struggled on offense, in particular, under Gallant.

Again, by underlying metrics, the first-year Golden Knights were better, but still middle-of-the-road.

Yet, a season later, Gallant transformed the Golden Knights into a team that tore through high-danger areas (and kept opponents out of theirs).

In 2019-20, the Golden Knights eventually fired Gallant for Peter DeBoer. With that in mind, you can split up the credit. Either way, this Golden Knights team became even more of a machine that season:

Could the Rangers transform in a similar way as time goes on?

Obviously, that remains to be seen. But there are mixed signs of progress in the steel-sharpening-steel atmosphere of playoff hockey.

Could Gallant gradually get Rangers playing a lot like Golden Knights?

Each round, it seems like the Rangers are bringing even-strength play closer to, well, even. It’s one thing for top stars to score, and Adam Fox to remain a Norris-caliber defenseman. The Rangers may gradually improve their all-around play, especially with the emergence of “The Kid Line.”

And maybe the Rangers just need to find their place for a demanding, beloved coach?

“He’s a lot different than most other coaches that I’ve been coached by,” Alex Tuch said in a great profile from The Athletic’s Michael Russo. “He’s a player’s coach, through and through. He is a guy that really demands the most out of you but understands how to coach each individual person differently. I think he really relies on the core group, the core players, that he has on his team. … He wants that fast pace. He wants that energy. He wants you to work. That’s the biggest thing with him. He wants you to work, and if you do, you’ll be fine …”

Gaining the drive to work hard may not be hard, either. As Nate Schmidt put in that same profile from Russo, “players will run through a wall for him.”

With time, maybe opponents will feel like they need to skate though walls to create chances from the most dangerous parts of the ice?

There’s precedent for that, and if other patterns hold, this Rangers run still has legs.

2022 NHL playoff schedule: Eastern Conference Final

NEW YORK RANGERS v. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (NYR leads 2-1)

Game 1 – Rangers 6, Lightning 2
Game 2 – Rangers 3, Lightning 2
Game 3 – Lightning 3, Rangers 2
Game 4 – June 7: Rangers at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN, SN, CBC, TVAS)
Game 5 – June 9: Lightning at Rangers, 8 p.m. ET, (ESPN, SN, CBC, TVAS)
*Game 6 – June 11: Rangers at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET, (ESPN, SN, CBC, TVAS)
*Game 7 – June 14: Lightning at Rangers, 8 p.m. ET, (ESPN, SN, CBC, TVAS)

* If necessary