Gerard Gallant’s words have been pretty poetic for this series. There’s no such thing as momentum. At least when it comes from winning twice at MSG to tie the second round. It’s advantage home side.
After controlling things by posting consecutive wins in Games Three and Four, the Rangers got Hurricane’d to death in an uncompetitive 3-1 loss in Game Five before many screaming fans at PNC Arena.
Not only were they dominated. But it looked like they’d never played hockey before. It was as if those two emphatic home wins didn’t exist. That’s how putrid they were.
When it comes to the Hurricanes, there’s no place like home. They’re not quite Dorothy from The Wizard Of Oz. But something happens to them when they play in Raleigh. They play a very different style of game that involve many details under coach Rod Brind’Amour.
It’s inexplicable. In the first round, the Hurricanes ran the table at home by going 4-0 to defeat the Bruins in seven games. The same series that saw them lose all three at Boston. They’re using the same exact script against the Rangers.
The home team improved to five for five in this very perplexing second round series. On the road, Carolina is 0-5. They improved to a perfect 7-0 at PNC Arena. They’re a much better team on home ice due to Brind’Amour dictating the match-ups. Along with a rowdy crowd, it’s a winning formula.
Now, the Rangers are once again up against it. They’re facing elimination for the fourth time in these playoffs. One strong characteristic they have is that they’ve been resilient all season. They seem to play their best hockey when their backs are up against the wall.
Indeed, Gallant’s close-knit group will again have to call upon that never say die attitude to force a deciding Game Seven back on Tobacco Road. They’ll need to play much better to win for a third time when the best-of-seven series returns to MSG on Saturday.
Tonight was mind numbing hockey played by the league’s youngest remaining team in the postseason. They never gave themselves a chance. Not even after Mika Zibanejad scored on the power play to tie the game in what was basically a lopsided first period.
Instead, they got dominated by the very detailed Hurricanes’ defense and forecheck. Also buoyed by controlling face-offs 31 to 25, they used their puck possession style to frustrate the Rangers. That number isn’t even that bad compared to other games. But it’s how they played that made a huge difference.
They doubled up the Rangers in shots 34-17 and out-attempted them 68-51. If you exclude the Zibanejad drive off a face-off win set up by the combination of Artemi Panarin and Adam Fox, you won’t find one tough save Antti Raanta had to make. He stopped 16 of 17 to continue his dominance in Carolina.
While it was easy picking for Raanta with the momentum shift coming on a successful offside challenge by Brind’Amour to reverse a Ryan Strome go-ahead goal with 15:03 left in the second period, the Canes made life hard for Igor Shesterkin. He was peppered throughout by a relentless Hurricanes’ attack.
None of the three goals he gave up were soft. They were earned by the Canes on good plays. Some poor play from a lethargic looking Blueshirts also proved costly. Shesterkin did well in making 31 saves on 34 shots. It wasn’t enough.
How could it be when the team was MIA in a pivotal Game Five? It really was hard to watch. Outplayed. Outgunned. Outworked. Out-hustled. Out-everything’d.
There isn’t much else to say. This was an atrocious game. They looked tired. Mistakes doomed them. Now, it’s do or die tomorrow night. Start time is 8 PM. Win or go home for the summer.
Before I get into the lightning recap (no reason for it to be long), I’ll say one more thing. Would you take a series where they’re trailing three games to two with a home Game Six for a shot at a deciding seventh game? If you told me before the season they’d have a chance with a win in Game Six to get one crack at the Conference Finals, I’d take it.
We all would. Look at how this team has been all year. Whenever they’re counted out, they rise up to the challenge. They did it against the Penguins. They were the comeback kids. Now, it’s a 3-2 scenario. Hold serve. Then it’s a pressure packed Game Seven. All the pressure will be on the Hurricanes. Win and then we find out.
As bad as Thursday night was, it doesn’t matter now. It’s over with. They’ll erase it and move on. The Garden will be rocking on Saturday night. They’ll have plenty of support to take this one the distance.
It doesn’t guarantee anything. But don’t count these Blueshirts out. There’s a lot of character in that room. They don’t want it to end.
Rather than fuss around with the lineup which was the same one Gallant used in Game Four, I’ll just note that Brind’Amour got key checking forward Jordan Martinook back. He plays with a lot of energy by finishing checks and being strong on the boards. He helped the Canes’ fourth line. Steven Lorentz sat out. That was the only change.
In the early going, it was the Vincent Trocheck line that created scoring chances. Marty Necas again got open for a good shot that Shesterkin stopped. When they weren’t taking wrist shots, they attempted wraparounds. Jesper Fast had two attempts that didn’t connect.
On a good play from Andrei Svechnikov, who finally broke through later, Trocheck appeared to have a beat on Shesterkin for a potential goal. But Brendan Smith shoved Alexis Lafreniere from behind into the net to knock it off its moorings. Despite Trocheck protesting, the puck never went in. Besides, Smith got away with one.
Lafreniere has had some battles with Smith throughout the series. He competes hard on both sides of the puck and isn’t shy about mixing it up. In this case, he saved a goal. Although in my book, there would’ve been a strong case to wipe it out.
As for the match-up, Brind’Amour got his Jordan Staal line with Nino Niederreiter and Fast against Zibanejad, Chris Kreider and Frank Vatrano. They were blanketed by the Canes’ third line along with shutdown pair Brady Skjei (yes) and Brett Pesce. Too often, the Zibanejad line was pinned in. They hardly created anything.
With the exception of the third line that had Lafreniere with Filip Chytil and Tyler Motte, they could barely get much going. When the second line got some attack time, they couldn’t quite connect with Game Four hero Andrew Copp. Skjei broke it up.
Following another stop from Shesterkin on Necas, Svechnikov took a bad penalty by knocking Motte down to give the Rangers a power play. Unfortunately, it was hideous.
With the top unit unable to do anything, Gallant actually sent his second unit out early. But a lousy read by Jacob Trouba led to a two-on-one Canes’ rush with Staal feeding Trocheck for a shorthanded goal at 12:57.
It was a brutal decision. Pressured up high, he made a poor pass to nobody for a sloppy turnover. Staal and Trocheck did the rest. That is the second shorthanded goal they’ve allowed in the series. Overall, they’ve given up three. One more than the whole regular season.
Continuing to struggle with Carolina’s defense, it took the Rangers almost 10 minutes to get their fourth shot. They had gone a while without one until Braden Schneider’s slap shot was blocked away by Raanta.
With three minutes left in the period, Ian Cole cross-checked Trouba for a bad penalty. The second power play cashed in immediately. Off a Zibanejad face-off win, Panarin and Adam Fox played catch. Then, Panarin dished across for a laser from Zibanejad that Raanta had no chance on six seconds into the power play.
Zibanejad’s third of the series tied the game with 2:54 remaining. It was their fifth and final shot of the first period. Despite getting outplayed by a wide margin, the Rangers were tied with the Hurricanes at intermission.
Shots were 11-5 in favor of Carolina. They held a 10-4 edge at five-on-five. One of the noticeable things in the first were their physicality. They finished every check. That seemed to be a strategy.
The second period was a repeat. If you didn’t watch, you missed nothing. The Rangers couldn’t or wouldn’t sustain any consistent pressure. Too often, it was the guys in the black and red Canes’ jerseys who controlled play.
After Lafreniere had a shot blocked during an effective shift by the third line, out came the Staal line. They had the Zibanejad line running around during the long change. Tony DeAngelo nearly had Sebastian Aho for a goal. But his shot rang off the crossbar.
Then came the turning point. On a good hustle play by Strome near the blue line, he kept a puck in and then had it come back to him for a shot that beat Raanta five-hole for what looked like a 2-1 lead.
However, it didn’t take long for Brind’Amour to challenge for offside. At first look, it seemed close. But after looking at it again, it was apparent Copp never got back to tag up. It was an easy reversal. The refs put five seconds back on the clock making it 15:08.
I thought Strome was the one top six forward who was effective at even strength. The problem is Panarin. He is really struggling. The upper-body injury (shoulder or back) that’s nagging him is noticeable. He’s avoiding contact and not shooting the puck.
Following a Raanta stop on a Chytil shot off a Lafreniere pass, it was Igor time. On a dangerous shot pass by Pesce, a Martinook redirect was harmlessly gloved by Shesterkin for a stoppage. That wasn’t easy. But you’d never know it.
After a close call by the Canes off an offensive draw while Emily Kaplan reported, Vatrano hooked into Svechnikov near the midway point. It was a lazy penalty.
This time, the Canes made him pay. Their power play issues have been well documented. Once I saw them set up, I had a bad feeling. Sure enough, DeAngelo moved the puck to Seth Jarvis. He then found an open Teuvo Teravainen, whose wrist shot beat Shesterkin high blocker for a power play goal with 10:13 left.
That gave Carolina the lead for good. They made it impossible once they retook the lead. It wasn’t only the Canes. The Rangers were miserable. Awful defense had Shesterkin under siege. If Carolina had a better offense, it would’ve been a blowout.
How bad was it? While the Hurricanes storm surged looking for more goals, the Rangers only had nine shots at the 36:25 mark. It was pitiful. They couldn’t mount anything.
The Canes again came close to putting it out of reach. But hit another goalpost. They hit three during the first two periods.
Through two periods, the Hurricanes led 19-9 in shots at five-on-five. It was 21-10 overall. By that point, it was time for Gallant to tweak the lines.
At the start of the third, he did. Chytil was up with Zibanejad and Kreider. Lafreniere was with Strome and Panarin. Copp was down on the third line with Motte and Vatrano. The fourth line remained intact. That meant Kaapo Kakko stuck with Kevin Rooney and Ryan Reaves, who was not a factor. Honestly, Kakko looked better than Vatrano this game. I’d have bumped him up.
Unlike previous games, Gallant didn’t overuse his top four. With Fox looking run down and both Trouba and Lindgren getting banged around, he played Schneider and Justin Braun more. The wise move.
K’Andre Miller accidentally high-sticked Aho early in the third. The Canes power play again looked better. They threw different looks at the penalty kill. It forced Shesterkin to come up with some saves to keep it at one goal.
It took a while. Following a successful kill, Trouba had a shot denied. Then Motte had his long wrist shot stopped by Raanta from the outside. That was most of the shots. He could’ve had a beer keg next to his crease.
Still only down a goal, Trouba was able to make a good wide move and try a backdoor pass for Kreider. But he couldn’t quite put it in. Somehow, they didn’t credit him with a shot. Raanta got over. Maybe it hit the side of the net. It was the only chance at tying it.
With nothing doing due to the Canes forechecking like crazy and shutting down the neutral zone, it was just a matter of time. On a Fox miscue, Svechnikov took a Necas feed, broke in on Shesterkin and had a sweet backhand finish, going five-hole for his first of the series with 6:59 left.
Game over. There was no reason to watch anymore. If a one-goal Canes’ lead felt like three or four, a two-goal deficit felt insurmountable. They turn into machines on home ice. It’s inexplicable. The only chance of beating them in that building is getting the lead. They did it in Game One. But blew it.
I’ll save you the ridiculous pulling of Shesterkin for a six-on-five. What a waste. They never had a chance. It was the most mind numbing, sleep inducing game I’ve seen from this team.
Now, it’s back to being the discounted underdog. A role they’re familiar with. There’s nothing to break down. It’s up to them. I’ll have more later today.