In what can best be described as a very frustrating game to watch, the Rangers were shutout by the Hurricanes 2-0 in Game Two at PNC Arena. They now trail the second round series two games to none.
How bad was it? Old friend Brendan Smith scored the backbreaking shorthanded game-winner with 4:06 left in the second period. A hardworking, high character player they let go to
Rangers South Carolina has been more of a factor so far than Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad and Adam Fox.
The fact that Smith has now scored and set up the big goals in the first two games is mind numbing. But that’s what the Stanley Cup Playoffs are all about. It’s where unsung heroes rise up. It was Ian Cole in Game One. Then Smith tonight.
While ESPN also correctly pointed out Smith’s no-nonsense second intermission interview when the Canes were getting shutout in Game One, it doesn’t explain what’s happened to key Rangers’ stars Panarin, Kreider, Zibanejad and Fox. They’ve been blanketed so far by the very system Hurricanes’ coach Rod Brind’Amour likes to play.
The quartet have really struggled to get going. They combined for 5 total shots and 14 attempts for the entire game. Even more alarming, they don’t have a single point. Kreider’s been held to one shot while Panarin’s been blanketed by the Canes’ team defense. Zibanejad and Fox each have four shots.
If the top guns don’t figure it out by Sunday at 3:30 PM, then the chances of a comeback from an 0-2 deficit are slim. They must produce starting in Game Three when the series shifts to MSG.
Gerard Gallant tried tweaking his lines after they fell behind. In the third period, he moved Alexis Lafreniere up to the Panarin line with Ryan Strome, who had the best looks. Unfortunately, one was too tough an angle and the other was shot right into the backside of Tony DeAngelo on a delayed penalty. Bad luck.
Gallant would mix up some more combos to try to spark his offensively inept team. Andrew Copp was shifted to the third line where he centered Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko. The reason being that Chytil isn’t winning face-offs. If he had Barclay Goodrow available for this round, you better believe Turk would’ve moved him up.
The Hurricanes controlled the face-offs, going 35-for-62. Jordan Staal dominated his match-up with Zibanejad. Overall, the Canes’ captain went 14-for-21. Zibanejad finished 10-for-22. He improved after a bad start. The issue is not having the puck enough to create offense.
With the Hurricanes storming Panarin with a swarming defense, he’s had little time to make plays with the puck. Making matters worse, it was his turnover on a crucial four-minute power play that Lafreniere drew where Teuvo Teravainen pushed the puck out for Sebastian Aho, who set-up Smith for a shorthanded goal.
That cannot happen. It’s very obvious that Panarin isn’t quite himself. But while it’s easy to critique him for his inconsistency, they aren’t even in this round. He got them here with his clutch power play goal to eliminate the Penguins in the first round. If he’s compromised, then the Bread Man is playing through it.
What’s less explainable is the quiet first two games Kreider’s had. The key to the offense all season highlighted by his 52 goal year and franchise record 26 power play goals, he really has to step it up. Ditto for sidekick Zibanejad, who was the only forward of the top guns to look engaged.
It’s true that the Canes have a lot to do with the offensive struggles. They play like a five-man unit. Brind’Amour is able to roll four lines and three defensive pairs while dictating the match-ups. It’s gone in their favor so far.
At the start, I said this about what the game boiled down to.
Boy. Was it not their night. For a second straight game, each coach started their fourth lines. Advantage Hurricanes. That checking line of Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Steven Lorentz and Marty Necas is more capable of contributing than Kevin Rooney, Tyler Motte and Ryan Reaves.
The Kotkaniemi line got the puck in deep and were able to create a couple of early chances. A diving block by Motte prevented a shot. Then Jacob Trouba continued to be a turnover machine. His failure to get the puck out led to an early Lorentz tester on Igor Shesterkin.
Following that sequence, you had the Panarin line get their best opportunity early on. On a rebound down low, Strome was unable to steer in a loose puck with Antti Raanta out of position. He had no angle and sent it wide. He has no luck.
Shesterkin then stopped a long Smith point shot off a good cycle from the Vincent Trocheck line. The Canes went back to their normal lineup. Trocheck was between Teravainen and Max Domi. Aho centered Andrei Svechnikov and Seth Jarvis.
The one aspect this game differed was the intensity. There were a lot more physical battles and scrums. Unlike Game One where only two penalties were called, you had some animosity between the teams.
Following a Cole shot block on Rooney, he and Smith got into it to lead to matching roughing minors. On the four-on-four, a Panarin wide backhand was nearly put in by Ryan Lindgren, who just missed around the net. His rebound went into Raanta for an awkward save.
When the four-on-four expired, there were more early fireworks. After he came out of the box, Smith finished a check on Filip Chytil along the boards. He responded with a cross-check. Smith immediately went back with a slash.
That meant more four-on-four. Shortly following a Kreider deflection going wide, Aho high-sticked Trouba to give the Rangers a four-on-three power play. It was abominable. Nobody wanted to shoot the puck between Panarin, Fox and Zibanejad.
This was a harbinger of things to come. Back to full strength, Smith leveled Chytil again with a good hit. He then was on the receiving end from Trouba, who caught him against the boards. Good honest playoff hockey.
After that, the Chytil line was able to get some sustained pressure. But Lafreniere had his shot blocked by Brady Skjei. It was a theme. The Hurricanes blocked 11 shots in the first periods. The Rangers had 20 attempts, but only got five shots through.
As the period went on, it was the Canes who picked it up. But not before Strome had a glorious scoring chance. On just a great feed from Copp that resulted in a DeAngelo slashing minor, Strome had time. But his shot went right into a lucky DeAngelo to get a whistle. He was in the right spot at the right time.
Then came another mindless five-on-four. It was hideous. A Panarin giveaway allowed Aho to come two-on-one with Teravainen. But Teravainen’s shot rang off the goalpost. The over reliance on the top unit is hurting so far.
Gallant stuck the little used second unit out late in the power play. They were able to set up a Trouba point shot that Raanta covered. Then Lafreniere exchanged pleasantries during another scrum. He sure has edge to his game.
On a shift at even strength, the third line had some puck possession in the Canes’ end. With Lafreniere battling Cole for position in front, Kaapo Kakko’s centering pass missed connection. There wasn’t a lot of operating room.
After going to the locker room again due to taking a puck to his face that bloodied him, Lindgren returned with 4:34 left. He’s a warrior. He’s been their best defenseman when he’s played in these playoffs.
As time expired, it was scoreless. By the conclusion, you could feel the Hurricanes coming on. They overtook the Blueshirts in shots and were dominant on face-offs.
In the second period, there continued to be tough battles. That’s how Carolina plays. It’s what makes them such a hard opponent to play at five-on-five.
After he lost a battle behind his net, Trouba let Staal come out and center a pass for a Jesper Fast shot that Shesterkin handled. That line is very responsible defensively and hard on the puck.
Following losing the puck, Copp took it back to create an opportunity for Panarin up top. Rather than shoot or do something with it, he waited too long and turned the puck over.
With the Hurricanes’ puck pressure intensifying, Trouba took a tough hit from Skjei. He got brutalized. It seems like part of the Carolina strategy is to finish checks on Trouba and force him into mistakes. It’s worked so far.
As the Rangers approached 10 minutes without one shot attempt, it really felt like whoever scored first would prevail. To their credit, they didn’t give up a lot defensively. The Canes aren’t as good offensively. But they make it tough.
After Raanta finally had to make a save on a Chytil shot to take the shades off from his beach chair, Kreider took a bad penalty when he slashed Jaccob Slavin.
The Carolina power play didn’t do much. Off a good DeAngelo cross-ice pass, Teravainen had his shot from the right circle stopped by Shesterkin. Following a Jarvis shot that deflected wide, Shesterkin made a great glove save to deny DeAngelo up top. He also kicked out another DeAngelo one-timer late in the penalty kill.
Following another lost draw in the defensive zone, Brett Pesce had two wide open looks. He skated in and missed both shots. These were good chances. But fortunately, he didn’t hit the net.
After a Rooney face-off win which was only the team’s 10th of 33 at that point, the fourth line had a strong forechecking shift. But Motte missed on two shots after utilizing his speed. I think he should be moved up in the rotation. We’ll see. He plays the tenacious game they need to have.
On what was his best opportunity, Zibanejad took a good pass from Frank Vatrano and was denied by Raanta. That was the best save he made at that point.
During a better shift from the second line where they had the puck deep in the Canes’ zone, Lafreniere came on and drew a high-stick on Skjei with under seven minutes remaining. Following a video review, they kept it as a double minor to protests from Brind’Amour. Lafreniere might have been cut on the nose. It was hard to tell.
Rather than take advantage of a critical five-on-four situation, the Rangers managed to turn it into a circus. With both Kreider and Panarin playing around with the puck, the top unit got zero shots in the first half. You could feel something bad coming.
Sure enough, a very bad turnover by Panarin allowed Aho and Smith to come in two-on-one. With Fox back, he was able to slide a perfect pass between Fox’s skates for a Smith finish for a shorthanded goal with 4:06 left. Brutal. There’s no other way to describe it.
Then with time still left on the Skjei penalty, Gallant stuck out Rooney with Kakko and Motte. Why? They were on the power play. He tries a totally different combo at a critical point.
Rooney foolishly boarded Cole for a bad penalty. That ended the five-on-four. Then, Kreider took another undisciplined slashing minor to hand the Canes a five-on-three with 2:30 left.
Following a timeout by Brind’Amour, his team couldn’t cash in. Lindgren blocked a Teravainen shot. They were able to escape still trailing by one. That was despite some really brutal play.
After two, shots favored the Canes 16-13. That’s over 40 minutes! That’s a period total for Oilers and Flames. My god.
I agree with JD’s assessment. It wasn’t so much that they weren’t trying. But rather how they played. They didn’t work smart. You have to at this stage. It’s the second round. It gets harder.
Even still down by a goal, it felt over. That’s the sense I got once Smith scored. 1-nothing feels like 4-nothing versus the Hurricanes. They literally smother you in the neutral zone and collapse defensively.
In the third, Copp was with Chytil and Kakko. Primarily to take face-offs because Chytil isn’t winning any. It was also to see if Lafreniere could provide a spark for Panarin and Strome.
Personally, I would’ve broken up the Zibanejad line. Lafreniere has more chemistry with him than Panarin. He’s also played more with Zibanejad and Kreider. If Gallant wasn’t gonna do that, maybe he should’ve loaded up by moving Panarin up on the big line.
Although they had eight shots in the period, they never seriously threatened Raanta. He made the saves.
With Shesterkin off for a six-on-five, the best opportunities came on one sequence. A Fox point shot was denied by Raanta. The rebound came to Lafreniere, whose shot was also stopped by Raanta with under two and a half minutes left.
That was it. From there, the Canes locked it down. With it basically over, Panarin decided to give away one more puck for an Aho gimme into an open net with two seconds to spare. It was the perfect end to a miserable game.
I got nothing else to add. They can say whatever they want. Now, it’s about figuring out a way to be better on home ice starting on Sunday.
Win Game Three. Make it a series. In order to do that, their best players have to wake up. They also must chip pucks behind the aggressive Carolina defensemen and get in on the forecheck. Create counters. Finish checks. Make it harder on them.
I’ve seen quite a few fans blast Kreider. ‘He’s not captain material. He’s disappeared.’ Horse shit! The Canes are paid to play hockey too. They handled business and protected home ice.
Now, it’s time for the Rangers to. Short memories. Game plan differently. Get the crowd into it early tomorrow afternoon. Score early. Get bodies in front of Raanta. Make him uncomfortable.
They can play much better. Even if they held the Canes down in the first two games, one goal in over six periods won’t get it done. They must show the urgency and resiliency that we saw last round.
This team has character. Now, we find out if they can respond. It’s not over. Don’t count them out.
THREE STARS 🌟 ✨️ 🤩
3rd 🌟 🤩 ⭐️ Antti Raanta Hurricanes 21 saves for shutout, 1 GA on 49 shots in series
2nd 🌟 ⭐️ Sebastian Aho Hurricanes primary assist on shorthanded goal, empty net goal (4), 9-for-13 on draws, +2 in 18:51
1st ⭐️ Brendan Smith Hurricanes scored the shorthanded game-winner at 15:54 of 2nd, 2 SOG, 5 attempts, 2 hits, +1 in 13:35