Determined Rangers make it a series behind Shesterkin’s 43 saves in 3-1 win over Hurricanes to take Game Three, Zibanejad and Kreider step up, Gallant has words for DeAngelo, Still trail series 2-1


This was more like it. Facing a must win situation, a determined Rangers rose to the challenge to take a competitive Game Three by a score of 3-1 over the Hurricanes at MSG.

By taking care of business at home on Sunday afternoon, they are back in the best-of-seven second round series. On goals from Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider, the Rangers now trail the Hurricanes two games to one.

They wouldn’t have a chance to tie the series without the brilliant play of Igor Shesterkin. The Vezina and Hart nominee was clutch making 43 saves on 44 shots to earn the game’s First Star. That included stopping 34 of 35 in a busy first two periods.

He delivered when it mattered most. To be honest, Shesterkin has played much better this round. He’s only allowed four goals on 91 shots. That’s exactly the reason they’re here. He made the critical saves when his team needed it.

Facing the remainder of a Canes’ power play to start the third period, Shesterkin made a great stop on Teuvo Teravainen in the slot. His shot was ticketed for the top half of the net. But Shesterkin got his glove on it at the last split second to keep it out. That was his best save.

Along with a tricky stop on Tony DeAngelo while shorthanded, his great play in net allowed the Rangers to settle in and defend better. They protected a one-goal lead by limiting the Hurricanes to nine shots in a more evenly played final period.

Following a Kreider miss on an empty net that hit the outside of the post, defensive forward Tyler Motte flipped a backhand clear from his own zone down for the empty netter with 1:23 remaining. That allowed fans to celebrate.

It wasn’t easy. It’s not supposed to be. With Gerard Gallant changing his top three lines for this big game, the style of play was different. It was more wide open. That meant a lot more shots, higher quality scoring chances and plenty of big saves from Shesterkin and former Ranger Antti Raanta (30 saves on 32 shots).

After hinting at changes before the game, Gallant decided to sprinkle his top three lines with kids. In breaking up the third line, he moved Filip Chytil up to the top line with Zibanejad and Kreider. Alexis Lafreniere played with Ryan Strome and Artemi Panarin. Kaapo Kakko was with Andrew Copp and Frank Vatrano. Only the fourth line remained intact along with the defensive pairs.

The main point of emphasis for Gallant was getting the Zibanejad line away from the strong checking line of Jordan Staal, Nino Niederreiter and Jesper Fast. With the last change on home ice, it worked. Zibanejad and Kreider were freed up for more offense.

While Gallant tweaked his lines, Rod Brind’Amour stuck with lineup he’s used since the third period of Game One. I misspoke on that last game. To correct myself, Teravainen is now back up with Sebastian Aho and Seth Jarvis. Marty Necas is up with Vincent Trocheck and Andrei Svechnikov. Max Domi is down with Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Steven Lorentz. The Staal line and D remained the same.

Unlike the first two games, Gallant started the newly formed third line for the opening face-off. That would be the good Copp centering Vatrano and Kakko. K’Andre Miller and Jacob Trouba anchored the defense. Brind’Amour countered with the Staal line and the top pair of Jaccob Slavin and DeAngelo.

For once, we didn’t get fourth line against fourth line. But they’d see plenty of each other throughout the contest.

I couldn’t agree more. The Who’s “Baba O’Reilly,” has been used before for big playoff games at The Garden. It’s always fired up the crowd. It’s just a great song. Paul O’Neill once used it as his walk-up as a Yankee. Pete Townsend at his best. I love The Who.

In terms of the game’s opening shift, Copp nearly scored on a two-on-one. But his shot missed over the top. He then had Kakko wide open for a potential goal. But he missed the open net. You’d like to see him bury those.

Following that close call, Ryan Lindgren “cross-checked” Jarvis. That’s my way of saying it was a bad call. Way too soft. Especially given how they’ve called the series.

Fortunately, the Rangers were able to have a good penalty kill. But not without help from the goalpost on a Svechnikov shot. He was the best Hurricane. He also nearly had Niederreiter in front, but Shesterkin made a tough save to deny him.

Even though they didn’t convert on the gift-wrapped power play, the Canes got momentum from it. They were far sharper when play returned to even strength. Playing their usual strict checking game in the neutral zone, they pounced on early Rangers’ mistakes.

Giveaways were a problem all game. The Rangers turned the puck over way too much. That’s an area they must clean up for next game if they’re gonna send the series back to Tobacco Road tied.

Part of it might’ve been the line adjustments. It fueled the Carolina transition game. That allowed the Canes to get 11 of the first 13 shots.

Fortunately, Shesterkin held up well. He had to deal with three consecutive lost defensive draws that resulted in point shots. That included two key stops on Brady Skjei. When Zibanejad finally won a face-off, the fans cheered. That’s how noticeable it is.

Things finally took a step in the right direction. At the halfway mark of the first, the Zibanejad line was able to get something going. On a slick spin off behind the net, Zibanejad drew a holding minor on Skjei to draw a power play.

After another lost draw to Staal that allowed the Hurricanes to clear the puck down, the top unit finally got set up. Once they did, it allowed them to make a difference.

On a Fox pass up to Panarin at the right point, he made a great pass across for a quick Zibanejad wrist shot that beat Raanta short side at 11:54. It was the first point of the series for all three. It also was their first power play goal against a stingy Canes’ penalty killing unit.

Despite getting outshot 13-6 at one point, the Rangers had the lead with the building rocking. Getting ahead against an opponent that hasn’t won yet on the road is huge. In the first round, the Canes lost all three games at Boston. But held serve in the four home games to make home ice matter.

Following the Zibanejad tally, a strong shift from Carolina’s fourth line nearly produced the tying goal. Kotkaniemi was able to get a step and go one-on-one with Shesterkin. But he made an aggressive poke check by coming out of his net to make a diving save. Hasek like.

On an offensive shift by the Canes’ checking line, Zibanejad made a good read to steal a Staal pass inside his own blue line. He then went two-on-one with Kreider. With the pass taken away, Zibanejad had a backhand graze the crossbar. That close to a two-goal lead.

From his own zone, Miller made a good outlet to Panarin which created another opportunity. It led to a pass for a Kreider one-timer that Raanta stopped.

On the next shift, Ryan Reaves got into it with a couple of Hurricanes between the benches. But cooler heads prevailed. Things would heat up later.

The Hurricanes continued to get chances due to the combination of winning face-offs and sloppy Rangers’ turnovers. A Panarin giveaway allowed the Staal line to generate forecheck pressure. But Ryan Strome made a strong defensive play to get the puck out.

That led to a tricky low shot from Panarin on Raanta, who had to deal with both Strome and Lafreniere searching for the rebound. He’d also deny Zibanejad and Kreider towards the end of the period to keep it a one-goal game.

My feeling after that more wide open period was that four goals would win the game. Interestingly, our Dad predicted 3-1 prior to the start. Maybe he had good instincts.

The start of the second period was wild. On a good shift created off the forecheck, Zibanejad nearly had Chytil for a goal. After that close call, a Canes’ turnover turned into a four-on-one for the Rangers. But Panarin held onto the puck too long after failing to toe drag for the shot.

That mistake almost became costly. It was the Canes’ fourth line that almost tied it. But Max Domi was stopped by Shesterkin, who was down when Kevin Rooney made a key clear out of harm’s way.

On the next shift, Kreider struck for his first goal of the series. With some sustained pressure down low against booing target DeAngelo, Zibanejad knocked his stick out. Unable to defend properly, he watched Kreider come out and wire a laser high far side on Raanta for his team-leading sixth of the postseason at 5:55.

But with the Blueshirts up by two, things got too close for comfort quickly. On a good defensive play by Brendan Smith, he moved the puck up to Staal, who was able to get it over for Niederreiter. Skating up ice with a step on Zibanejad, he took an innocent looking backhand that went through Shesterkin to cut it to 2-1 at 8:18.

After he gave up the bad goal, the knowledgeable Garden crowd immediately chanted, “Ig-or, Ig-or!!!” They know how much he’s meant to this team. It’s not possible without him. I agree with Tara’s assessment. She has her own YouTube channel where she does fun commentary on the games. It’s worth it.

Gaining momentum from the Niederreiter goal that made it a one-goal game, the Canes made a strong push. Svechnikov, who is still without a point in the series, had some good looks. He had a wraparound stuffed by Shesterkin. He also toe dragged Miller and got in, but was unable to finish. He was dangerous.

Shesterkin would come up with a tough save on Trocheck later. He then stopped DeAngelo from the point. He has a way of getting shots through. Even with all the booing, he had his most effective game so far.

Shesterkin continued to hold steady. He denied a tough Kotkaniemi backhand up high. It definitely was uncomfortable. But he made the stop. He also had to deal with a strange deflection that was tricky.

With the Canes still attacking, Svechnikov took an undisciplined interference minor on Fox to hand the Rangers their second power play. Aside from a Trouba shot after he replaced a banged up Fox after a tough Trocheck hit in the corner, they didn’t get much. The best chance was on a Panarin touch pass for a Strome deflection that Raanta kicked out.

Late in the second, Lafreniere got his stick up on Staal to go for high-sticking with over 27 seconds left. That came after a Shesterkin stop on Jarvis. They would easily kill off the remainder of the period to stay ahead.

Despite getting outshot 18-10 in the second and 35-23 overall, they still were nursing a one-goal lead into the locker room. Here’s the rest of the key stats.

The start of the third proved critical. Still with 1:33 remaining on their five-on-four, the Hurricanes came close to tying it. Shesterkin made his biggest save of the game by getting his glove up to push a Teravainen high shot wide. It would prove to be his best of the nine he saw in a better defensively played third.

He’d also make a tough stop on a DeAngelo low try with some traffic in front. Overall, Shesterkin made four shorthanded saves on the second Canes’ power play. One that’s struggled mightily. They’re 9 for 92 dating back to the regular season after being really good at one point.

On some strong work by Reaves, whose shot popped up in the air, Motte nearly batted the loose puck in. But an alert Raanta got a piece of it to keep it out.

There wasn’t a lot of hitting in this game. But twice, Braden Schneider finished good checks to cheers. He didn’t play a lot, but made the most of his 13 shifts (8:06). Partner Justin Braun got 15 shifts including 1:04 on the penalty kill for 10:17.

Once again, Gallant leaned on his top four to nail it down. Fox, Ryan Lindgren, Miller and Trouba each played over 22 minutes and had their best games so far. Particularly Fox, who made some key blocks in crunch time.

If there was one difference in the third aside from tighter checking, Gallant readjusted his lines. He went back to the four he usually uses. Chytil was reunited with Lafreniere and Kakko. They nearly created some separation.

On a great keep by Lafreniere, he moved the puck down for Chytil. He then centered across for a quick Kakko one-timer that a sliding Raanta got across to deny down low. It was a very good play. It just didn’t net the result.

Following that chance, Steven Lorentz somehow got behind the defense. But on a mini break with back pressure, his shot went over the net. He then centered for Domi, who had his shot go off Fox wide.

With nearly six minutes to go, Motte took an unnecessary penalty when he slashed Brett Pesce. That put Carolina on their third man-advantage.

However, the Hurricanes were unable to get shots through. Give credit to the Rangers’ penalty kill. They buckled down by getting in shooting lanes and making key blocks and clears.

Raanta would then stop Panarin to keep it a one-goal game. He also previously stopped Lafreniere, who tested his glove.

As time began to wind down, DeAngelo had another long shot easily handled by Shesterkin, who was calm, cool and collected.

With 2:29 left and an offensive draw in the Rangers’ end, Brind’Amour used his timeout. He lifted Raanta for an extra attacker. So, it was six-on-five.

They didn’t get much done. The Rangers defended well by protecting the house. On some good defensive work, Kreider got a look at an open net. But he somehow missed it by hitting the outside of the post. He then went to the bench shaking his head.

Fortunately, it wouldn’t prove costly. After another defensive draw, Motte came out with the puck and flipped a backhand clear down that found twine with 1:23 left to end the suspense.

But with the fans saluting Igor, the Hurricanes decided to send a message on the final shift. For some reason, Domi decided to level Lindgten at the buzzer. He reacted like the warrior he is by taking Domi down.

The refs did a good job breaking it up as Rooney and Smith discussed dinner plans. However, the chaos wasn’t over. For reasons only known to him, an incensed DeAngelo lost his cool and started shouting at the Rangers bench. Gallant had no problem going back. It got interesting.

When it ended, Gallant said he didn’t care for what Domi did. He also told the press they don’t do things that way when they lose. That’s true. If they did, they could stick Reaves out who would handle it.

My view on it is it was silly shenanigans by a good team who didn’t need to stoop to that level. Perhaps that was foolish. Not that the Rangers need any added motivation to win Game Four. But it came off bad.

At the end of the day, the Rangers did what they had to do. They shutdown the Hurricanes in the third by holding them to nine shots. They also had nine before the Motte empty netter that sealed it.

That’s how they have to play. There are still some things to work on. Like the 35 giveaways they were credited for. That can’t happen on Tuesday. Managing the puck is essential to evening the series.

It was a good win. Now, we’ll see if they can get this level and make it a best two out of three. Stick taps to the boys for getting it done.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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