Under the strangest of circumstances, the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers will kick off the 2020 NHL Playoffs at 12pm inside the bubble in Toronto but thankfully also live on our TVs.
The Hurricanes are the higher seed and team in the standings, but the Rangers swept the regular season series. But with the odd circumstances of having a four-month layoff and then parachuting directly into playoff hockey, I think anyone who thinks he/she can predict how things will go either has a crystal ball or maybe is a bit naive.
But from what I have seen/read, those who predict series this time of year either via model or just personal predictions seem to lean in the Hurricanes favor. As for today’s game, the odds shown here have the Hurricanes as being the favorite to win against the Rangers.
I have already written a bunch about this series, so I will mostly point to those angles before offering last thoughts.
On July 23, I offered a first set of quick hitters on the series which you can find here.
I followed up on July 24 with an article that had a varied set of possible story lines for the series which you can read here.
Finally, yesterday I boiled the series down to four factors that I think are most likely to decide the outcome. That article is here.
Mostly in the vein of that final article, my watch points for the Saturday’s game are as follows:
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the New York Rangers
1) Rusty or ready
Somewhere I am on record as suggesting that at least a few of the first-round series will be decided completely by which team seems to find playoff gear or close immediately. I think playing at a top level after a long layoff and with no ramp even of exhibition games is more challenging than most think. Playing at a top level is not a switch. It is a process that usually takes time. In this series and also the others, if either team has a decided edge in terms of readiness after the layoff, that trumps all else.
2) The forecheck
More specific to the Canes versus Rangers and following a theme from the previous article, I believe the single biggest factor in the series will be who wins the forecheck. Both teams have young legs and can at times use overwhelming pressure as the ignition switch for the offense. In addition, I think both teams’ blue lines are vulnerable if attacked with speed at transition points when the puck changes hands. If I had to bet on one thing, it would be that whoever wins the forecheck will win the series.
Goaltending is always an X factor, especially in the playoffs. The first thing to watch will be who Brind’Amour starts. No doubt the start would go to James Reimer if Brind’Amour is making decisions based on Wednesday’s exhibition game. The question is whether preseason-ish practice work is enough for Brind’Amour to switch from Petr Mrazek generally being the first goalie. Regardless of who starts, the Canes were at a disadvantage in net against the Rangers in the regular season. If that deficit continues in the playoffs, it will be difficult to overcome.
The puck drops just after 12pm Eastern Time with (I think assuming no blackouts) your choice between Mike and Tripp on Fox Sports Carolinas of John on NBCSN.
Hockey is back!