There are a lot of reasons the New York Rangers are in the Eastern Conference Final and already sitting with a 1-0 series lead over the back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
At the top of that list is the play of all-world goaltender Igor Shesterkin. He is the franchise player, having a Conn Smythe caliber run, and is in the running for almost every individual award he could possibly win as a goalie.
They are also getting a dominant performance from their power play, led by veterans Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider.
But there is another factor at play, and it is perhaps the most encouraging for the Rangers’ long-term outlook. It is the emergence of what is being referred to as “The Kid Line” (we need a better nickname for this, people) of Filip Chytil, Alexis Lafrenière, and Kaapo Kakko.
The trio became a thing late in the regular season, and then really started to get consistent playing time in the playoffs. They were the Rangers’ best line in the First Round against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and have progressively gotten better each game.
They were sensational on Wednesday night against Tampa Bay, with Chytil scoring a pair of goals. That gives him five goals over the Rangers’ past three games, and seven for the playoffs overall.
So far this postseason that trio has spent 115 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey together as a line, and it has been one of the Rangers’ best. The Rangers are above the 50 percent mark in terms of total shot attempt share, scoring chances, high-danger chances, and expected goals, while also outscoring teams by a 9-5 margin with them on the ice.
Those numbers on their own without any additional context are strong. But when you consider what the rest of the Rangers’ lines have looked liked during 5-on-5 play you get a sense for just how important they have been for the team.