The same question the New York Rangers had coming into the Stanley Cup Qualifiers is still hanging around them, still unanswered, as they face potential elimination less than a week into them.
Who will be the starting goalie for their must-win Game 3 against the Carolina Hurricanes at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN360, TVAS, MSG, FS-CR)?
It’s possible any one of Henrik Lundqvist, Igor Shesterkin or Alexandar Georgiev will start Game 3, when the Rangers will try to begin a comeback that has been accomplished once in NHL history. Teams that have lost the first two games are 1-55 winning a best-of-5 NHL series (1.8 percent) and 1-39 from 1980-86. The New York Islanders defeated the Washington Capitals in a 1985 series.
[RELATED: Rangers vs. Hurricanes Game 2 Recap]
“We’ve got to find that energy from this point to puck drop tomorrow,” Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said following a 4-1 loss in Game 2 on Monday. “I’ve liked our resiliency all year long. I’ve liked our team. I know we’re going to come out strong. We’re looking forward to that now.”
Lundqvist started Games 1 and 2, allowing seven goals on 71 shots (.901 save percentage), including four on 34 shots in Game 2, because Shesterkin, who was originally scheduled to start, was unfit to play and is considered day to day. As part of the NHL Return to Play Plan, a team is not permitted to disclose player injury or illness information.
Shesterkin, who practiced Friday, watched the games from the stands. Georgiev was Lundqvist’s backup.
“We haven’t decided yet internally what we’re going to do tomorrow,” New York coach David Quinn said.
The Rangers need more from their top skaters, Quinn said.
“If you’re going to win, your best players have to be your best players, and our best players have to outplay their best players,” he said. “That’s something that we certainly have to have tomorrow night.”
Artemi Panarin scored a 5-on-3 power-play goal for the Rangers in Game 2, but the right wing, a finalist for the Hart Trophy (NHL MVP) after scoring 95 points (32 goals, 63 assists) in the regular season, has been limited by the Hurricanes.
Mika Zibanejad scored for New York in Game 1, a 3-2 loss, but the center also hasn’t had nearly the same impact he had in the final weeks of the regular season, when he led the NHL with 23 goals and 36 points in 22 games from Jan. 31-March 11.
Left wing Chris Kreider has one assist and three shots on goal and right wing Pavel Buchnevich has no points and four shots on goal. Center Ryan Strome has an assist but is minus-3 with three shots on goal. Defenseman Tony DeAngelo has an assist but is minus-2.
“We’re getting frustrated,” Quinn said. “There is no easy ice out there and we need to understand that. We’ve got to be consistently trying to earn our ice. They do a good job taking it away. I give them credit. You never want to take credit away from an opponent, but I know we can be better, and we have to be better in a hurry.”
Quinn said the Rangers have to show more poise and patience. Too often he said they’re trying to make the big play happen when it’s not there.
He’d be OK if they settled for a quiet shift when neither they nor the Hurricanes get a scoring chance. But that’s a work in progress with a young team that entered the Qualifiers as the second youngest of the 24 teams, an average age of 25.7 (Chicago Blackhawks, 25.6).
“Between now and tomorrow night at 8 o’clock we have to learn we can’t keep shooting ourselves in the foot,” Quinn said. “I mean, our lack of patience is killing us. Was it better [in Game 2] than it was [in Game 1]]? Yeah, it was, but we didn’t come here to get incrementally better, we came here to win hockey games and we’re not doing enough.”