Copp leads the Rangers to a 4-1 victory to even the series with the Hurricanes, Fox and Lindgren have big nights along with Vatrano, Shesterkin makes 30 saves

It’s all tied. Taking the #NoQuitInNY moniker to heart, these Rangers really are never say die. Coming off a hard fought win in Game Three behind 43 saves from Igor Shesterkin, they delivered a stronger performance to send the second round series back to Raleigh all even.

Moka is part of our Rangers playoff thread on Twitter. Glad she could experience such an exciting game. Great footage.

In his best game so far, Andrew Copp had a goal and two assists to help spark the Rangers to a resounding 4-1 win on home ice over the Hurricanes. Combined with strong support from Adam Fox (goal/assist), Ryan Lindgren (2 assists) and Frank Vatrano (power play goal plus assist), the Rangers took Game Four at MSG to square the best-of-seven series.

Now, it’s a brand new ballgame. A pivotal Game Five is back at PNC Arena in Carolina on Thursday night at 7 PM. It’s the Hurricanes who are feeling the pressure. Their playoff road woes continued tonight. After losing all three games at Boston in the first round, the Canes have dropped two more in NYC to fall to 0-5 on the road this postseason.

They are a perfect six-for-six back on home ice. That included a 3-2 win over the Bruins in a deciding Game Seven they dominated. It also includes the Game One win in overtime and shutout in Game Two against the Rangers.

The question becomes obvious. Can the Blueshirts steal a game in Raleigh? If they can behind Shesterkin, who wasn’t as busy in making 30 saves, then it’s possible they can pull off the upset.

It was some 15 years ago that a different bunch of Blueshirts were in a similar position during a hard fought second round against a heavily favored opponent. In that one, they rallied to take Games Three and Four to send that series with the Sabres back to Buffalo.

In many ways, there are some similarities. It’s again a superb second-year franchise goalie that’s leading them. In 2007, it was Henrik Lundqvist, who was over two minutes away from shutting out the Sabres in Game Five. But current GM Chris Drury had other ideas late to set up a cruel ending. They’d lose the series in six despite a great series from Jaromir Jagr.

This time, the names have changed. It’s Shesterkin playing the role of Lundqvist. He’s only allowed five goals on 122 shots.  That’s a .959 save percentage over the first four games. Not quite Andrei Vasilevskiy level. He stopped a ridiculous 151 of 154 shots to post an ungodly .981 in the Lightning’s sweep of the Panthers. But Igor has been brilliant this round.

The Blueshirts playing starring roles are Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Artemi Panarin and Fox. They got going in the two home wins. Particularly Zibanejad, whose rebound of a Lindgren shot gave them a 3-0 lead in a challenging second period.

What will happen? How will the story end? The script is still being written. It’s 2022. A different series. Maybe this one can have a better conclusion.

It’ll be tough. As has been highlighted throughout, the match-ups have mattered. After Rod Brind’Amour had his way at home with Jordan Staal neutralizing Zibanejad, Gerard Gallant controlled the match-up on home ice. He went with his third line against the Staal line.

That freed up Zibanejad and Kreider to create offense. They were instrumental in helping even the series. Gallant also continued to make some line tweaks that paid dividends. He only had one in store tonight by moving Tyler Motte up to a new third line with Filip Chytil and Alexis Lafreniere. Kaapo Kakko slotted down to the fourth line with Kevin Rooney and Ryan Reaves, who was heard from.

It sure worked out. Similar to Game Three when Chytil was elevated up to Zibanejad and Kreider for the first two periods, by going back to the regular top six which includes Vatrano and Copp, it created better balance. The lineup was as follows:









The Hurricanes went with the same allotment Brind’Amour has used since late in Game One.

For this game, Gallant went with the new third line that included Motte. Brind’Amour again started his checking line of Staal, Nino Niederreiter and Jesper Fast.

The Canes got the game’s first shot. It was taken by Brett Pesce. On a play where they got scrambled in their end, Pesce got a great scoring chance. He sent a high wrist shot towards the net. It looked like it was going in until Shesterkin made an acrobatic jumping glove save to prevent the goal 70 seconds in. It was huge.

In what amounted to a frantic pace from both sides, you had plenty of open ice. Following a takeaway, Lafreniere got a tough backhand on Antti Raanta that he handled.

Vatrano would draw the first penalty on Seth Jarvis, whose skate caught him for a tripping minor. He protested due to it being inadvertent. So did the Canes’ bench. It was an iffy call that gave the Rangers an early power play.

For the next two minutes, the top unit managed to keep the Hurricanes’ penalty kill pinned in. Even on some dangerous mishandled passes, they held the puck in. They attempted six shots. Four reached the net. Raanta robbed Zibanejad with a great right pad save on a one-timer. He also denied Ryan Strome and Kreider.

After that close call, Shesterkin was called upon twice. First, he made a tough stop on Garden booing target Tony DeAngelo. Then, he denied Trocheck. Those saves along with the big one on Pesce not even a minute and a half in really loomed large.

On the flip side, Lafreniere had Motte in the slot. But he sent his shot wide of the Canes’ net. From a physical standpoint, Lindgren delivered a solid hit on Andrei Svechnikov, who then responded with one of his own on Copp.

With the game still scoreless halfway through the first period, Shesterkin denied Necas in tight. He had some very good looks. But didn’t have any puck luck.

The turning point came when Jacob Trouba absolutely leveled Max Domi at center ice with a mammoth hit that sent him flying. At first glance live, I thought it was too high due to Trouba making head contact. But the replays later showed that Domi was going down which is why there was helmet contact.

Immediately, Steven Lorentz went after Trouba. He instigated a fight which the stronger Trouba got the better of with 8:22 left. That really got the crowd into it. Wes McCauley made the proper call by assessing an extra two minutes on Lorentz for instigator along with a 10-minute misconduct. Both Trouba and Lorentz received five each for fighting.

That put the Rangers on their second power play. After not being able to take advantage early on, the top unit made a change. With only Fox remaining out, Copp came on with Vatrano, Chytil and Lafreniere. They got it done.

On a smart Fox pass across to Copp, he was able to make a seam pass for a Vatrano shot that beat Raanta at 13:31 for a power play goal. Lafreniere also made a smart play by driving towards the net to distract Jaccob Slavin just enough. That created enough room for Vatrano to fire home his first of the series past Raanta for a 1-0 lead.

With the building into it and making derisive chants every time DeAngelo was on the ice, the Rangers kept up the momentum by getting a second consecutive goal 2:11 later.

On a good takeaway from Copp, he skated in and made a drop pass for a Lindgren shot that was redirected by Fox in front to make it 2-0 with 4:18 remaining. It was a tremendous play. Lindgren took the point shot and Fox pinched up to deflect it home for his fourth of the postseason.

The roof nearly came off on the next shift. But to his credit, Raanta kept his cool by making two straight stops to deny Fox. He’d come up with a couple of more to hold his team in.

Things picked up when the fourth line came out for a shift. It was a Reaves hit on Svechnikov that riled up DeAngelo. When the whistle sounded to stop play, the two exchanged words. It sure was entertaining.

Following an icing from Lindgren with 5.4 seconds left, Jesperi Kotkaniemi won a face-off from Motte back to Brady Skjei. But his last second shot went wide to end the period. Here were my thoughts.

As far as the overall stats, the Rangers had a good period. Not only did they outscore the Hurricanes 2-0. But outshot them 11-8 and had four takeaways. Face-offs were in favor of Carolina 11-6.

The second period was much different. It started off with the Canes getting a great chance to cut the deficit in half. After a Trouba reversal that K’Andre Miller couldn’t handle, that allowed Sebastian Aho to move in and set up Teuvo Teravainen for a point blank chance. Somehow, Shesterkin got across to make a right pad save. Incredible.

After an initial positive start to their shift, the fourth line got trapped out with Lindgren and Fox. They were able to survive. Reaves made a good clear.

On a line change, Lafreniere had his shot attempt take a weird deflection off Pesce’s stick into his ear. Fortunately, he was okay. Certainly a scary moment. Later on, Lafreniere had Motte open, but he fanned on his shot. That line was very effective all night.

Then, it was Igor time. He made a nice blocker save on a tough Aho shot. Miller then got in a good hit on Aho in the corner. 

Things got a little dicey. On a few turnovers, the more aggressive Hurricanes were finally able to generate better chances at five-on-five. Maybe the best one they had in the second period was when Necas was wide open in the slot. But he somehow missed with Shesterkin out of position. He fired it wide.

On another strong shift where they took advantage of the fourth line struggling to get the puck out, the Canes drew a penalty when Lindgren went off for interference on Aho.

However, that actually was advantage Rangers. The Hurricanes have had so many issues with their power play. They had some lousy puck management that nearly led to Zibanejad scoring shorthanded. Raanta was able to make a great right pad save to kick out the chance that Kreider set up.

Late in the man-advantage, Necas had another shot ring off the goalpost with Svechnikov parked in front. That close to making it a one-goal contest. That summed up his night. Necas is without a goal so far in the playoffs.

Given how poorly they were playing at five-on-five, it felt like only a matter of time before the Canes got back in it. As Jesus pointed out in his accurate assessment above. But it never came.

Despite everything tilted in their direction including a large disparity on face-offs (23-8 at one point) and more shots and attempts, they couldn’t beat Shesterkin. Whether it was him making the saves or missing on chances like Necas, the Canes’ offense was anemic.

Following a good hit, Vatrano led a rush in transition. With Lindgren calling for the puck in the slot, he passed for him. His high shot was mishandled by Raanta. The puck went behind where Zibanejad was able to stuff it home for a critical goal that increased the lead to 3-0 with 3:12 left.

That gives Zibanejad goals in two straight. In the two wins on home ice, he responded with two goals and an assist. That’s the Mika the Rangers need to win this series. Especially with Panarin continuing to be fairly quiet. Whatever is ailing him isn’t helping.

They could’ve had more. But weren’t able to cash in on a Brendan Smith interference minor on Kevin Rooney with 2:01 left. They still took a three-goal lead to the locker room.

Shots were 12-8 Canes. The teams were all even at 20 apiece for the game. The difference was that the Rangers took care of their special teams and were opportunistic. That’s why they led by three.

It was a little over three minutes into the third that Lafreniere bumped into Raanta to take a goaltender interference minor. On a tough play around the Carolina net, he was in a close battle with Smith. It wasn’t a shove. So, Lafreniere served the two minutes.

The Hurricanes had three shots on their five-on-four. However, they never seriously threatened. Shesterkin’s best save was a tricky blocker on an Aho shot which he swatted away like a gnat. That’s how locked in he was.

Since I missed the very beginning prior to the national anthem, I asked about whether there was a moment of silence for all the victims in Texas. It really is sad what’s become of our country. God bless all the children’s families.

I don’t want to say too much else. This is a hockey blog. But I really am at a loss for words at the lack of leadership in DC. While some of our fans chanted, “Tony Sucks,” I’ll tell you what really sucks. The government. They’re clueless.

Back to the game. On a play that you felt coming, Trouba turned over a puck to Aho. This time, he was able to find Teravainen for a wrist shot upstairs that Shesterkin had no chance on. That cut it to 3-1 with still 13:27 left.

There were a few nervous moments afterwards. Too many shifts where our side backed off. They were allowing the Canes to come in with speed and get chances. But they never drew any closer.

It was actually Raanta who made the harder saves. With Fast coming back, he stopped Panarin on a backhand try on a mini break. Then he made a big glove save to deny Kreider off a two-on-two rush.

During a stoppage, ESPN color analyst Ray Ferraro picked up on something Gallant told his bench. He instructed them to stop watching the play. If that was the message, they sure got it.

On another good play that involved Copp who was the game’s First Star, Strome got in on the forecheck and made a nice drop for a Copp shot that found twine. That gave the Rangers the breathing room they needed. They led 4-1 with 8:50 left.

Afterwards, a very active shift from Lafreniere resulted in him baiting Svechnikov into a reactionary roughing minor. To be honest, he probably should’ve gotten two as well. But got away with one. They got the reaction.

Although they didn’t come close to scoring on their fourth five-on-four, Gallant had Kakko out with Chytil, Vatrano, Copp and Trouba. He hardly played. I think Gallant just wanted to get him out. It has to be tough only playing a fourth line role. But Kakko still received over 10 minutes.

As time wound down, Brind’Amour never pulled Raanta. He probably was resigned to the fact it wasn’t his team’s night. The Rangers stabilized following the Copp goal. They defended better. Shesterkin was never under that much pressure. Quite a contrast from Game Three.

With time running off, out came Reaves for the final shift. You better believe Gallant had one thing in mind. It nearly happened. Reaves went after Domi, who wisely didn’t oblige. It led to some pleasantries exchanged. Nothing more.

Reaves and Domi each got matching roughs while Miller and Ian Cole got slashing minors. Bookkeeping. That’s all it was.

Following that loud ending, the Blueshirts came over to salute Shesterkin. Then they waved their sticks to the crowd. The series is now all tied. It’s a best two-of-three.

Kudos to this team for again showing the tremendous character and heart they have. They are a resilient group. Have been all year. Now, onto Game Five.

They went Lindgren with a star. He easily could’ve been. He’s been their best defenseman since returning against the Penguins. Without him, they’re on the golf course. Lindy is the warrior of this team. Kudos.

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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