Bubble sweep by hurricanes mean nothing to Rangers now

Before this postseason began, the Rangers had plenty of questions about the 2020 Bubble Playoffs, where they were swept away in the three-game qualifying round by the Hurricanes, now their forthcoming opponents in the second round.

In the eyes of the NHL, those three games in Toronto counted as a playoff entry for that Rangers team. Technically, star goalie Igor Shesterkin, reigning Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox, defensive partner Ryan Lindgren, Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko made their NHL postseason debuts in this bizarre, expanded tournament format at a fan-free Scotiabank Arena.

It probably shouldn’t count. The qualifying round gave a few additional teams a chance to make it into the 16-team dance for the Stanley Cup as the coronavirus pandemic suspended the final three weeks of the 2019-20 regular season.

Unfortunately, the three-game sweep — in which the Rangers were outplayed 11-4, overplayed in all three zones and outplayed in every facet of the game — counts against this Rangers team.

The Hurricanes' Sebastian Aho (20) scored against Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin in Game 3 of their 2020 bubble qualifying series.
The Hurricanes’ Sebastian Aho (20) scored against Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin in Game 3 of their 2020 bubble qualifying series.
NHLI via Getty Images

But if you ask the Rangers, it doesn’t feel like it counts. After Rangers’ treble loss to the Penguins in Game 1 of the first round, Fox said he considers this his first-ever playoff contest. He, along with a few other rangers, pointed out the difference in atmosphere and overall feel of the game compared to what it was like in the bubble.

“I think there was a level of intensity, I would say, in those games,” said Jacob Trouba, who was in his freshman season with Rangers when they went to the bubble. “That’s something we might be able to focus on. But it’s here in a building full of fans and it’s a different atmosphere, everything will be different. Without fans in the building it’s a different game I guess.

“I don’t think you can take much from it. I think it’s a new season, we have a completely different team. I would say the page has turned quite a bit.”

Artemi Panarin, who was also a freshman in New York at the time, added: “I don’t hear anything from Bubble in the locker room, so. Maybe I’m not english enough. We try to forget [that, probably]. But also learn. Something. I think it’s a different situation now. Play in the bubble with no fans and all that stuff. It’s playoffs and not playoffs, three games.”

Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant was relieved of his coaching duties in Vegas in January 2020, two months before COVID-19 brought the sports world to a halt. He said he’s seen a lot of bubble playoffs but didn’t remember the Rangers-Hurricanes series.

Separately, Gallant has no plans to show video of Rangers’ qualifier loss to Carolina.

Artemi Panarin after Rangers were swept away by hurricanes in the 2020 bubble.
Artemi Panarin after Rangers were swept away by hurricanes in the 2020 bubble.
NHLI via Getty Images

“They didn’t do too well, I don’t think,” he said. “It doesn’t mean anything. We’ve played them four times this year, you know what, they’ve certainly bettered us in at least three of those games. That means nothing to me now. We are a confident team at the moment, we feel comfortable in our team. We just beat a damn good Pittsburgh team, I know they had some injuries, but we beat a damn good team and we found ways to win in fights. That is all that matters for the future.”

Coincidentally, four former blueshirts who were on the roster during that bubble matchup with the Hurricanes are now playing for Carolina. Jesper Fast, Tony DeAngelo, Brady Skjei and Brendan Smith will all be on the other side this time.

The Rangers might have gone 3-1 against the Hurricanes in the regular season, but to repeat Gallant, that means nothing now. The Rangers gave Carolina a run for the Metropolitan Division title but fell behind. Now they have a chance to bring the 2020 Bubble Playoffs story to a close and outperform the Hurricanes where it counts and reach the Eastern Conference Finals.

“I don’t think they look at our team and say, ‘Well, this is going to be an easy show,'” Gallant said. “I think when we’re ready to play we’re as good a team as anyone else in this league and we’ve proved that. We’ll never give up, we’ll fight hard and I think it’s going to be a damn good series.” Bubble sweep by hurricanes mean nothing to Rangers now


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