It wasn’t until the second period of Game 1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins that New York Rangers defenseman K’Andre Miller felt the nerves of his first playoff series start to melt away.
“Playoff jitters, you try to get them out early,” he said on Tuesday after the Rangers practiced in Tarrytown. “Fly around, try to get a couple hits, get a couple shots. Just try to be smart and consistent, that’s the biggest thing. There’s going to be ups and downs and it’s just about managing those waves of emotions. I think our team did a good job and bring that into round two.”
Miller likely wasn’t the only Blue Shirts player that went through something like that as they navigated their first playoff appearance and their first NHL Playoffs Game 7. After the first round, you could say the playoff inexperienced Rangers have a bit more experience now.
On the eve of their second-round series with the Carolina Hurricanes, the Rangers are now a more battle-tested team in the postseason. New York scrapped its way back into and won three consecutive games to knock out the Penguins and it was team’s youth that played a large part in that.
It was the “Kid Line” that helped keep the season alive in Game 5 at Madison Square Garden and Adam Fox, appearing in his first non-bubble playoff series, finished the first round with 10 points (three goals, seven assists).
“I think it’s huge. I really believe those kids playing that first round and us winning in seven games,” Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant said. “A lot of important times in that game and they played really well. They worked hard, they played well and get a little more experience. I think the whole year is the most important thing for the experience for those kids, but getting in a taste of the playoffs and seeing the intensity up a little bit. It was good for them.”
Miller, who had a goal and an assist in the first round, also called the experience huge for his development and the guys that haven’t had much playoff experience yet in their young careers.
“It was talked about for our team a little bit,” he said. “I think we showed people what we can do and showed that it didn’t really matter at the end of the day.”
The Rangers weren’t expected to make much noise this year. Starter Igor Shesterkin had been highly touted and the Blue Shirts boasted a roster with a lot of potential, but their lack of experience had many expecting the team to take another year to be playoff ready.
Even in the first round, they were viewed as the underdog by many of the pundits against the Penguins. It seems to be a role that the Rangers are happy to accept and going into their meeting with the Hurricanes.
“I don’t think there’s really any pressure,” Miller said. “Coming off a 3-1 series against a really good Pittsburgh team with the experience and those top guys in (Sidney) Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin and (Kris) Letang I think our confidence is where it needs to be right now. Obviously, we’ve showed what we can do all season coming back.”
For more New York Rangers news, visit AMNY.com
The Hurricanes will present a similar challenge as the Pens since they’re a team that forechecks hard and plays an uptempo style of hockey.
“You get ready for them the same way you get ready for Pittsburgh,” Gallant said. “You only have a couple of days to get prepared and get your team rested. And the most important thing is get your players rested. They had a day off yesterday and coaches will come in and try to get some system stuff ready, and how we’re going to play against these guys.”