Longtime New York Rangers broadcaster believes the Blueshirts are going into the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a lot of confidence.
While the NHL is planning for a return to action this summer, the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs will be played in unprecedented fashion amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year’s postseason will feature 24 teams, it will take place in two “hub” cities, and there will be no fans in the stands. Not to mention, the players will have suffered through an approximately four-month-long hockey-hiatus by the time things get rolling.
For this reason, the entirety of the NHL finds itself in unfamiliar territory, unaware of what to expect upon hockey’s return. ESNY was fortunate enough to have the chance to talk hockey and discuss these uncertain times with Joe Micheletti, one of the longtime voices of the New York Rangers and the NHL on NBC.
And who better to talk to?
Unlike most others, Micheletti’s diverse hockey experience covers all aspects of the sport. Prior to his noteworthy broadcasting career, he played four seasons in the NHL, before later going on to spend four years behind the bench as an assistant coach for the St. Louis Blues.
Since then, he has worked as a TV and radio analyst covering the NHL. Micheletti has called five Winter Olympics, 20 Stanley Cup Finals, and 15 NHL All-Star games. Serving as the Rangers’ color commentator for MSG Network since 2006, the esteemed announcer has received several Emmy Award nominations.
He took the time to discuss the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs in addition to the Broadway Blueshirts’ season in an exclusive interview with ESNY earlier this week.
Although there are fears that this year’s postseason will look different and be less competitive due to the lack of raucous crowds, Micheletti is not concerned. In fact, he’s rather optimistic and excited.
“From an intensity level, early on it’ll be a little bit of an adjustment, but that’s not gonna last long because [the players] are going to step back and think about what’s at hand,” explained Micheletti. “Most players, coaches, general managers, and owners all feel that if you can just get into the playoffs then you’ve got as good a chance as anybody else . . . so I think they’ll adjust to it quickly enough. I don’t think that [the intensity level] is gonna be an issue.”
Aside from the lack of fans, there are also some feelings of angst among people around the league regarding the quality of play, as it may be difficult for players to quickly jump back into the swing of things after their extended absence. Some believe that this could prove to be an advantage for a young team such as the Rangers, who may benefit from their youngsters’ fresh legs.
“I think it won’t take them as long to get back up to speed as some of the older players,” said Micheletti in response to this notion. “On the flip side of that, the older players that either have the experience of winning a Stanley Cup or understand what playoff hockey is all about . . . They’re not gonna have a difficult time. It might take them a little bit longer to get into physical game-shape, but not mentally.”
The conversation then shifted toward the outlook of the Blueshirts heading into the postseason. When the NHL regular season came to a pause, the Blueshirts were surging but sat two points outside of a playoff spot. Despite the fact that they remained on the outside looking in when the lights went out back in March, David Quinn’s squad believes that their postseason berth was well-deserved.
“I know that the Rangers’ players and coaching staff felt that they were going to get into the playoffs had the season continued,” Micheletti told ESNY. “There was a really positive feeling amongst the group that they could play against anybody and beat anybody . . . there was a level of confidence amongst the players and the coaching staff that they had turned a corner and they were playing some of their best hockey.”
Regardless of what would have happened, the Blueshirts are in, which is what matters at the end of the day. However, the road ahead will be a difficult one. They’ll prepare for a dogfight against a tough opponent, the Carolina Hurricanes, in the qualifying round.
“It’s going to be a good series. A really good series,” declared the renowned broadcaster. “They’re a really good team . . . highly talented and have a good defense . . . very fast, and they’re gonna throw a lot of shots on goal from all over the place. . . . They get [Dougie] Hamilton back which is really important.”
While Carolina has struggled against the Rangers in recent history, they are the sixth-seed in the Eastern Conference and did make an impressive run to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2019. In spite of this, the Canes don’t come across as a fear-inducing matchup in 2020. Instead, they look vulnerable and susceptible to an upset.
“Last year’s team had a little bit more grit to them, which I think you need in the playoffs. When you compare this year’s Carolina team to last year’s, they don’t have as much of that. That doesn’t mean they can’t win… It’s still a good team,” added Micheletti.
He also cautions that the Blueshirts’ 31 wins in their last 37 contests with Carolina might be deceiving, warning that too much stock shouldn’t be put into the aforementioned regular-season success.
Micheletti mentioned, “A lot of the games were close. Many of them were low scoring. Many of them [the Rangers] shouldn’t have won.”
When it comes to the Rangers, the 2019-20 campaign was a roller coaster. It was an inconsistent season full of ups and downs for the Blueshirts, yet they achieved their ultimate goal of reaching the playoffs. Nevertheless, there are still woes that must be addressed.
“To me, they didn’t have a great goaltending year. They really didn’t. When play was halted I believe they were 26th in the league in goals-against,” Micheletti noted. “[Igor] Shesterkin really gave them a lift. Henrik was good at times but struggled at times. Same with [Alexandar] Georgiev.”
He continued to reflect, later adding that though the Blueshirts aren’t perfect, he does see them as a tough out in the playoffs. “I like the Rangers. They’ve got a lot of scoring depth. They can beat you in different ways. They might allow too many goals at times, but they’ve proven they can outscore you too.”
In the end, Micheletti believes that the Rangers are ready.
“They expected to be there, and I think that this is just gonna give them the confidence to finish this off in order to get to where they think they should be. I think they go into that series with Carolina feeling really good about themselves.”
The formerly rebuilding Rangers should feel good about themselves. They’re ahead of schedule, and they should celebrate the fact that their playoff drought lasted just two seasons.
But now, in order to truly make a statement and go any further, they must execute — something they’ve had no trouble doing against Carolina over the past decade.