The Kids were perhaps the best Rangers on the ice on Wednesday, a little more than all right, and yes that was a necessity in the Blueshirts’ 2-1 overtime loss to the Hurricanes.
Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour, holding last change with Game 1 in Raleigh, N.C., decided to try to eliminate the Rangers’ top line with his checking line. Space, in general, was at a premium in this one, and the second line had a mostly nondescript night.
That left the Rangers’ Kid Line to try and generate a bulk of the offense for the Blueshirts. At this point, though, “Kid Line” might be the wrong moniker. In these playoffs, Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko have grown up fast. Wednesday was the latest evidence.
There was the goal early in the first period, Chytil’s second of the postseason, followed by a game in which the trio outplayed their opposition for nearly the entirety of their time on the ice.
“We just play our game,” Chytil said. “Just moving feet.”
Lafreniere spent much of the season shuttling between lines as the Rangers tried to find the right fit for the former No. 1-overall pick. Ditto for Chytil, though he does not have quite the same pedigree as Lafreniere. Kakko played just 43 games, missing most of the season’s back end.
Coming into the playoffs, it was the Rangers’ top six that was supposed to be the sure thing. Instead, it has been the third line, which at the end of regulation on Wednesday had an 81.94 expected goals percentage, per Natural Stat Trick, that has consistently outplayed its opposition.
There are still moments to harp on — Kakko’s failure to convert on a wide open net late in the third period in particular — but the fact is, the Rangers had the better of this game for most of the night thanks in no small part to their young guns.
“We’ve only got one [goal],” Chytil said, “but we can take a lot of positives to another game and build off this game.”
If you zoom out for a moment, and it is hard to do so amid a playoff run, the future for the Rangers is at least a little bit cloudy due to their dependence on goalie Igor Shesterkin this season. Much of the future of this core comes down to whether Shesterkin can replicate his 2021-22 campaign, or whether the Rangers can find a way to do a better job in front of him than they did for most of this season.
And then there is the question of the Kid Line — all three first rounders, with Lafreniere and Kakko both top-two picks. Right now, at least, they are delivering a resounding answer.