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Rangers-Hurricanes predictions: An Eastern Conference executive, player and coach are in the running

The betting sites and the data modelers like the Carolina Hurricanes in their second round matchup against the New York Rangers. The data, as usual when it comes to Carolina, is on the Canes side. Despite winning the Presidents’ Trophy and beating the inferior Washington Capitals in four games in the opening round, the Rangers are not analytical darlings this season.

We wanted to know what some NHL insiders think. So, just like in Round 1, we brought together an executive, a coach and a player from three different Eastern Conference teams to give us their thoughts on what they think should be an excellent matchup.

How even is this matchup?

The delegate: Both teams’ first round went as I expected, although I was surprised that a team as underpowered as Washington was able to tilt the ice at times against the Rangers. There were stretches in the first round when (Igor) Shesterkin had to be great, and he was. That’s a big advantage for the Rangers in this series. Freddie Andersen is a great story, but I just can’t see him being able to match what Shesterkin can do when he’s locked up like that.

If what we saw during the regular season and the first round of the playoffs holds up, the Hurricanes will have the puck a lot more, they will generate more shots, more offensive zone time and more chances than New York, but that won. It’s not enough that they win. The Rangers don’t need the number of shot attempts and chances the Hurricanes get to score. If Carolina wants to make this a series, the top offensive guys are going to have to be really good and better than they were against the Rangers.

The coach: The first round numbers for both teams were quite similar, they were both good on the power play (the Rangers were 6-for-16, 37.5 percent, against the Caps and the Hurricanes were 5-for-15, 33, 3 percent, against the Islanders) but the Canes’ penalty kill wasn’t as good against the Islanders as it was in the regular season (Carolina went 8-for-11 on the PK, 72.7 percent). Discipline will be key in this series, as both power plays can come back to bite you when you start taking penalties, the Rangers probably more so than Carolina.

I’d say both teams need to step up after the first round. If the Rangers play the same as five-on-five against Washington, Carolina will kill them. They could get away with things against the Caps, but that won’t happen here. Probably give the Rangers an edge in net and they’ll have better skills, but the key for me is how does the Rangers D respond to what Carolina does? Carolina will bring in pucks all day, their D will squeeze to keep the game alive and then they want to beat you down low. Carolina will play in the neutral zone when they get there, but are happy to get pucks in and get to work. The Rangers have that 1-3-1 (neutral zone system), but can it hold up when Carolina is flying around?

The player: I’m curious to see how the teams hold up in the D-zone. The Rangers have that five-on-one dice style and it works for them. If you had to watch Carolina in a seven-game series, you would think (the Hurricanes) could wear you down with the way they attack every spot on the windshield. The Hurricanes have been playing that man-to-man game on D for a long time and it has brought them a lot of success, but not overly so. You can break them down sometimes because once they lose someone it can be a bit of a struggle. And the Rangers have some experienced players who could force the issue there.

The Rangers need Adam Fox in Round 2. (Danny Wild / USA Today)

What will be the difference in the series?

The delegate: If Adam Fox isn’t 100 percent, that could be a big opportunity for the Rangers, because they’ll need him — they always do, of course — to get out of foul trouble and counter Carolina’s aggression. But to me, the Canes were in a similar position two years ago and couldn’t put aside the Rangers. Vincent Trocheck was on that Carolina team and now he’s probably the Rangers’ best forward in the first round. The Rangers may not have much of the puck, but I don’t think it matters. Rangers in six.

The coach: For me, it’s the special teams. The Rangers have the guys to neutralize Carolina’s power play, starting with the man in net (Shesterkin). Carolina obviously added (Jake) Guentzel, and the top two guys against the Islanders were (Seth) Jarvis and (Andrei) Svechnikov, but it takes big runs from the big guys like (Sebastian) Aho. The Rangers big boys can reach that higher level. I’m not sure Carolina can do that. Before the playoffs started, we walked through our coaches’ room to pick a champion; I chose the Rangers. Can’t change now.

The player: I think this is as big a shot as you can get. Different styles, lots of skills everywhere, they both do things well, but do them differently to get the result. The Rangers defend well, I don’t think they get enough credit for that, but I think it comes down to goaltending. Freddie has been great for (Carolina), but he hasn’t exactly held up in the last few playoffs, so he has to not only be good but stay healthy. I also wonder what a Carolina loss could do. This is going to be what, making it to the second round six years in a row without reaching a final? This may be the last attempt for that core. I’m not sure if that helps them or puts too much pressure on them. I honestly can’t pick a winner.

(Photo: Jaylynn Nash/Getty Images)