The New York Rangers’ 2021-22 season came to a heartbreaking end with their 2-1 loss in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay lightning. Though they fell short of their ultimate goal, this group deserves credit for making the transition from rebuilding to contending and making a deep postseason run. They have come a long way over the course of this season and they are in a much better position than they were one year ago.
Breakthrough Seasons for Igor Shesterkin and Chris Kreider
Throughout both the regular season and postseason, the Rangers relied heavily on their star players and they delivered. Igor Shesterkin took his game to another level in goal as he repeatedly stole games for the Blueshirts when they allowed more scoring chances than they created. He also led the NHL with a .935 save percentage (SV%) and 2.07 goals-against average (GAA) in the regular season.
Shesterkin continued his dominant play in the postseason with a .929 SV%. Despite some early struggles in the Rangers’ first-round matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins, he bounced back when they needed him the most and led them to five consecutive victories while facing elimination.
Chris Kreider also took his game to another level this season. Though he possesses a rare combination of speed and power, he has never made it through a full season without experiencing some scoring droughts which prevented him from ever scoring 30 goals in a season.
This season Kreider became an unstoppable presence in front of the net, especially on the power-play, repeatedly scoring on deflections and rebounds. He finished the regular season with 52 goals including an NHL-leading 26 on the power play. He also tied a career-high with 25 assists. Additionally, he became one of the Rangers’ best penalty-killers even though he rarely killed penalties before this season. In fact, he ended up scoring three shorthanded goals.
Clutch Playoff Performances
The Rangers had a lot of key contributors this postseason including Andrew Copp and Frank Vatrano, who provided secondary scoring. Artemi Panarin had an underwhelming postseason but still scored a clutch overtime goal against the Penguins in Game 7 of Round 1. Ryan Lindgren played at a very high level despite a nagging lower-body injury, and K’Andre Miller proved to be a force throughout. In addition to these important players, a few others also stepped up in a big way during the playoffs.
Shesterkin played at an extremely high level and made the difference in many of the team’s close victories. He repeatedly made saves on odd-man rushes and played his best with New York facing elimination.
Kreider and Mika Zibanejad both came through with clutch plays for the Blueshirts and produced offensively. In the six games New York played while facing elimination, Kreider had five goals and one assist, and Zibanejad had four goals and seven assists. In total, Kreider had 10 goals and six assists while Zibanejad had 10 goals and 14 assists. They were also excellent on the penalty kill, power play, and at even strength.
Adam Fox also had a very impressive postseason even though he wore down late in the Eastern Conference Final. He led the Rangers in ice time per game at 26:38 and blocked 39 shots in 20 games as the team relied heavily on him both offensively and defensively.
Fox excelled on the power play in the postseason, as he scored a clutch power-play goal in Game 7 of Round 2 on the road against the Carolina Hurricanes to give his team a 1-0 lead, which they never gave up. He finished with two goals and nine assists in New York’s six games played while facing elimination and in total, he had five goals and 18 assists in 20 games.
Additionally, the Rangers got key contributions from their “Kid Line,” which proved to be their most effective one late in their Round 2 matchup with the Hurricanes and early in the Eastern Conference Final against the Lightning.
Filip Chytil erupted for seven goals in the playoffs, including two in Game 6 against the Hurricanes and another one in Game 7. Alexis Lafreniere played with physicality, set up his linemates, and had nine points in the postseason. Kaapo Kakko played well defensively and scored an important goal in New York’s Game 2 win over the Lightning. The trio forechecked effectively and created more scoring chances than they allowed.
Rangers Moving Forward
Unfortunately, the Rangers have a lot of important players set to become unrestricted free agents this offseason including Copp, Vatrano, Tyler Motte, Ryan Strome, and Justin Braun. They will have to try to figure out a way to sign key players while staying under the salary cap.
It’s also important that the Rangers do not take a step in the wrong direction and next season they will need their star players to continue playing like stars. Three of the four teams that made it to the Conference Finals in 2021 failed to make the postseason this season. New York will try to avoid that outcome in what is expected to be a very competitive Metropolitan Division.
The end of this season is a painful reminder of how quickly things can fall apart. The Rangers led the Lightning 2-0 in their Eastern Conference Final and 2-0 in Game 3. They went on to lose 3-2 in Game 3 and Tampa won four consecutive games.
Still, the Rangers were in much worse shape after last season. This season they made the postseason for the first time in five years after a disappointing end to last season, which finished with Matt Martin concussing Jacob Trouba with a hard hit and Tom Wilson yanking Panarin down by the hair and injuring him.
This year, the Rangers played with toughness, as they stood up for each other and consistently found ways to win games. Though they fell short of winning the Cup, their performance during the 2021-22 season is certainly a big step in the right direction.
I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, rooting for the Rangers, Yankees, Giants, and Knicks. When my dream of playing shortstop for the Yankees fell short, I started writing about sports instead. I’m a proud graduate of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.