RALEIGH — Gerard Gallant has repeatedly said he’s not big on pregame speeches.
The New York Rangers’ head coach anticipates that his locker-room address prior to Game 7 on Memorial Day in Carolina “might be 25 seconds” – and he’s not expecting any of his players to make much of a fuss, either.
“I hope not,” Gallant said. “I’m sure (Jacob) Trouba and (Chris) Kreider might say a few little things, but I don’t think they’re going to go over the top. That’s not what we need. We just need to play our game and play it fast. That’s what we try and talk to our players about – playing our game and doing the best thing. You get guys 20 guys pulling the rope the same way and you play well, you move on.”
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Perhaps the Blueshirts haven’t been overwhelmed by these playoff moments through the first 13 games because of that steady demeanor.
Gallant harps on treating each game the same and focusing on the task at hand, which has rubbed off on his players.
“That’s the only way to approach it,” Ryan Strome said following Monday’s morning skate at PNC Arena. “If you hit the panic button and you start going crazy, I think everything you’ve been successful with goes out the window a little bit. Turk’s pretty good back there with pushing the right buttons and we’ve got some good leadership on the bench and we’ll see what happens. It should be a fun one.”
Trouba joked that he doesn’t pay any mind to “the outside narrative” — “My Twitter does, but I don’t,” he quipped — but there has been merit to blocking out distractions as this group of Rangers navigates their first true playoff run.
“I don’t think we’ve ever gone there,” he said. “We really believe in how good we are in the room. There’s obviously been the narrative of the inexperience and you’re young and all that. I don’t think we really care or pay attention to it. We know what we have inside the room and we believe in what we’re capable of.”
Whether the Rangers are capable of winning in the Hurricanes’ building is to be determined.
The Canes’ 7-0 record in Raleigh these playoffs has been an exhausted talking point, but the reality remains that the Blueshirts have to prove they can do it if they’re going to advance to the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since 2015.
“We’re ready to the challenge,” Strome said. “We wanted another crack at these guys in this rink – and that’s what we got.”
The Rangers are 10-6 all-time in Game 7s and 7-1 in their last eight dating back to 2012. They’ve gone 4-0 in elimination games this year, but only one of those wins came outside of Madison Square Garden.
Through three games in Carolina, they’ve scored only one even-strength goal while averaging 22 shots on goal per contest. They’ll need to find ways to break the Hurricanes’ forecheck to keep the possession battle closer to even and muster more offense.
There won’t be any surprises at this stage, either. With the home-ice advantage of last change, Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour will surely use his defensive shutdown line of Nino Niederreiter, Jordan Staal and Jesper Fast to shadow the Rangers’ top line of Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad and Frank Vatrano.
That trio will have to figure out ways to breakthrough – and if they can’t, it’ll place additional burden on Artemi Panarin, who has yet to register an even-strength point in this series, and the Kid Line of Alexis Lafrenière, Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko.
“Everybody has to be a big part of it,” Gallant said. “Rod’s a big-time matchup guy with the Staal line, and that’s obvious. I would be, too, if I had that type of line. … That’s what they do best. So, we’re not going to worry about that. We’re just going to go out and play our game.”
If all four lines can find ways to make contributions, and if Igor Shesterkin continues his second-round brilliance, then the Rangers will certainly have a chance.
Scoring early would be big, as well. That would shift all the pressure to Carolina and goalie Antti Raanta, who is coming off a shaky performance and early exit from Game 6.
The team that’s struck first has won each of the last five games, but it’s worth noting that the Rangers trailed at one point in each of their final three wins against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the previous round.
“I know the numbers when you score first and that stuff, but it’s about the last goal at the end of the game,” Gallant said. “I’d like to score first, but if we don’t, we’re not going to quit.”
Anyone who has watched this team all season knows that.
That’s what makes them so compelling – and that’s why all bets are off in Game 7.
“We’re just going to be ourselves, and that’s how we’ve done it all year,” Trouba said. “Even this morning, guys are laughing, having fun, enjoying our time being around each other. We’re going to enjoy this game and there’s not going to be any big speeches. We know what we need to do. Our team’s done it all year.”
NY Rangers projected lineup: Game 7 at Hurricanes
When: Monday, May 30 at 8 p.m.
Where: PNC Arena in Raleigh
TV/Radio: ESPN/98.7 FM
First line → Chris Kreider (LW) • Mika Zibanejad (C) • Frank Vatrano (RW)
Second line → Artemi Panarin (LW) • Ryan Strome (C) • Andrew Copp (RW)
Third line → Alexis Lafrenière (LW) • Filip Chytil (C) • Kaapo Kakko (RW)
Fourth line → Tyler Motte (LW) • Barclay Goodrow (C) • Ryan Reaves (RW)
Top pair → K’Andre Miller (L) • Jacob Trouba (R)
Second pair → Ryan Lindgren (L) • Adam Fox (R)
Third pair → Justin Braun (L) • Braden Schneider (R)
Starter → Igor Shesterkin
Backup → Alexandar Georgiev
Healthy scratches: F Jonny Brodzinski, F Julien Gauthier, D Libor Hájek, F Dryden Hunt, F Greg McKegg, D Patrik Nemeth and F Kevin Rooney
Injured: F Sammy Blais (right ACL)
NOTE: This lineup is subject to change
Vincent Z. Mercogliano is the New York Rangers beat reporter for the USA TODAY Network. Read more of his work at lohud.com/sports/rangers/ and follow him on Twitter @vzmercogliano.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism