Just two days ago, Ryan Reaves told reporters that the Rangers believed they are among the NHL’s elite, and the standings backed up that assertion.
Reaves certainly wasn’t wrong in that regard, as the Blueshirts were atop the Metropolitan Division after Wednesday night’s win over the Maple Leafs, furthering the declaration that this year’s team is much different than recent seasons of playoff-less hockey. But New York had a golden opportunity to prove itself against another contender in the Hurricanes, and instead, the team fell flat.
Carolina dominated on both ends of the ice, finishing with 42 scoring chances compared to 16 from the Rangers in a 6-3 defeat in Raleigh.
“I don’t feel like we got up to the level we needed to,” Mika Zibanejad said. “This was maybe the best team we’ve played against, they took advantage of our mistakes.”
The Hurricanes certainly looked like a team poised to make a deep run in the playoffs, justifying its 27-8-2 record, while the Rangers showed that they still have a ways to go before they justify the label as a Stanley Cup contender, even if they are currently even with Carolina’s 56 points on the season so far.
“Carolina commits to what they’re doing, they do it quickly, they’re predictable for one another so they’re going from high to low and they know they’re getting pucks to the net and they do that over and over,” Chris Kreider said. “Those are the little things we need to do over the course of 60 minutes to be successful, and that team does those things.”
While Friday’s loss was a deflating one and a reality check, the Rangers can at least take comfort in the fact that they now have an up-close look of what a contender looks and plays like, and have the entire second half of the season to work their way up to that level.
“It’s a good learning lesson for us, and we’ll move on,” Zibanejad said.
Follow Ryan Chichester on Twitter: @ryanchichester1