Rangers storm past Hurricanes 6-2 in stunning conclusion to win series, Advance to Conference Finals showdown with Lightning, Kreider delivers in elimination game, Fox sets record, Shesterkin 37 saves to set up match-up versus Vasilevskiy

They did it. The New York Rangers are going to the Conference Finals. They did it in convincing fashion by going into Raleigh and defeating the Hurricanes 6-2 to take a deciding Game Seven in stunning fashion at PNC Arena.

There’s so much to digest here. It’s unbelievable how resilient this team is. They really never quit. It’s like the #NoQuitInNY hash tag has become their rallying cry. To come back and beat the Hurricanes in enemy territory, improving to 5-0 in elimination games is remarkable.

I don’t have the words. The Rangers are truly a special T-E-A-M. That’s why they’re still playing. For the first time in seven long years, they will play in the Eastern Conference Final. Ironically, they’ll meet the same opponent. The two-time defending champion Lightning with the next round starting on Wednesday night at MSG.

It’s a huge accomplishment. No doubt about it. Anyone who had this team winning two tough series in comeback fashion to take on the Stanley Cup champs is a liar or straight tripping. This is so exciting because it’s so unexpected. I can’t believe it. Wow. I’m speechless.

Considering how the second round series played out, most of us couldn’t have predicted a 6-2 road win over a tough Hurricanes’ team that entered a perfect 7-0 on home ice. The fact that they doubled up their output from Games One, Two and Five, demonstrates how strong this group of Blueshirts are. Their tremendous character and never say die attitude has gotten them this far.

Now, it’s a best-of-seven series versus the Lightning in the Conference Finals. It will pit Igor Shesterkin against Andrei Vasilevskiy. The game’s two best goalies will face off. Of course, it’s a lot bigger than that storyline. It’s the young upstarts going up against the battle tested champs. A dream for ESPN.

As for the Hurricanes, they were done in by undisciplined penalties and poor special teams. While Shesterkin tipped it in favor of the Rangers the final two games due to Antti Raanta having a bad Game Six and then leaving tonight’s deciding game with a lower-body injury at two goals down, it really was the Rangers’ superior power play and better penalty kill that determined the winner.

In the end, all the stats in the world didn’t help the Canes. They’d never lost a series while leading three games to two. They had won their last six Game Seven’s. That’s all gone. Home ice didn’t matter on Memorial Day in Raleigh, North Carolina.

All that mattered was that the Rangers were better when it mattered most. They played a superb game to take the series. Buoyed by a pair of power play goals from Adam Fox and Chris Kreider, they got out to a two-goal lead and never trailed. A huge key to winning in that building.

The Hurricanes are a much better team when they’re ahead. They play a different style at home. However, they were unable to get established due to minors on Sebastian Aho and a too many men on the ice penalty that really was due to a clean, hard hit by Jacob Trouba on Seth Jarvis. It loomed large.

Eight minutes into the game, both Fox and Kreider converted on the power play to put the Blueshirts up by two. The biggest save Shesterkin made came on Teuvo Teravainen when he robbed him on a one-timer following the Kreider goal. That was a momentum killer for the Canes, who pushed hard after falling behind.

Shesterkin made 16 of his 37 saves in a hectic first period. The play was wide open. It was the best offense the Canes mustered all game. They really generated some good scoring chances. But a locked in Igor didn’t cooperate.

As the game went on, it was the Rangers who picked up their play at five-on-five. Even though they were out-attempted by a considerable margin (82-46), they weren’t outshot or out-chanced by much. In the final two periods, the shots were 23-20 Hurricanes. Hardly the shooting gallery we’d grown accustomed to in that loud arena.

Ryan Strome would add a key goal late in the second. His first of the series beat rookie Pyotr Kochetkov, who replaced an injured Raanta with less than five minutes left in the period. A tough situation to come into for a young netminder.

Kreider would add his second of the game when he powered past Jaccob Slavin to go backhand deke on Kochetkov less than four minutes into the third. That made it 4-0.

After Vincent Trocheck redirected a Tony DeAngelo shot for only the second Hurricanes’ power play goal after a rare Shesterkin miscue, Filip Chytil erased any doubt when he got behind the Canes and beat Kochetkov five-hole, answering back 40 seconds later for a 5-1 lead.

Following a Max Domi goal that cut it to three with 3:47 left, Andrew Copp scored into a vacated net less than a minute later to conclude the scoring.

Mika Zibanejad had three assists in the victory. It was very quiet. But the top center was the best forward in the series. He finished with eight points (4-4-8) over the last five games to outplay Aho, who wasn’t as consistent.

With a goal and assist, Fox also concluded the series with eight points (2-6-8) to match Zibanejad. His 10 points are an NHL record by a defenseman in elimination games. Pretty special.

In stopping 37 of 39 shots, Shesterkin finished the seven-game series by allowing 12 goals on 234 shots. That translates to a .949 save percentage. He posted a 1.72 GAA. Tremendous numbers. He really delivered when it counted. Similar to the first round against the Pens after going through a rough patch.

How about Chytil? All he did was score four goals. That included the pair he had in the Game Six win. He added another big one for insurance to help wrap it up. After Zibanejad, it was Chytil who notched four goals against Carolina.

Don’t overlook the contributions from Tyler Motte and Barclay Goodrow. Both gritty forwards were instrumental in helping the team come back from a 3-2 deficit. Their attention to detail at both five-on-five and on the penalty kill were monumental. Getting Goodrow back for the final two games provided a big lift. Similar to what Motte brought when he returned against Pittsburgh.

That grit and intangibles matter at this time of year. Nobody defines it more than Ryan Lindgren. The warrior himself, who kept coming back from the locker room including at one point last night, he personifies what this team is all about. Enough cannot be said about the gamer he is. Battling through whatever is ailing him to provide great leadership and defense on the top pair.

They’re also here due to how Gerard Gallant has handled things. He never panics. Not when they were in a 3-1 hole in Round One. Not in what had been a home ice series until Monday night. He continues to push the right buttons. His calm demeanor has been a perfect fit for this team. Now, he will coach against close friend Jon Cooper in the next round.

I already covered a lot. It had to be done that way. That’s how meaningful it is for the never say die Blueshirts to be back in the Final Four still vying for the Cup.

Let’s get into how Game Seven went. A memorable night for the franchise, who delivered a loud message to the rest of the league. They’re back.

One of the coolest things about this game is my best friend took his son. It was a graduation present. A special shout out to Tim for being such a great Dad. I know his son Mikey will never forget it. He loves the Rangers. Maybe he was the good luck charm. Look at their seats.

At the start, Gallant had Goodrow between Motte and Ryan Reaves with K’Andre Miller and Trouba. Rod Brind’Amour countered with his fourth line of Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Max Domi, Jordan Martinook with the top pair of Slavin and DeAngelo.

With the crowd which included enough Ranger fans who made the trip making plenty of noise following the national anthem on Memorial Day, it was the Hurricanes who got the game’s first two shots. Shesterkin stopped Brett Pesce and Brady Skjei from distance.

One thing that was evident early was how committed the Rangers were defensively. Both Lindgren and Braden Schneider blocked shots. For the game, they dominated that category making 25 compared to the Canes’ eight. Trouba led all skaters with five.

On an early shift from the second line, Aho hooked into Copp to put the Rangers on an early power play. This was a bad penalty. It would prove costly.

The perplexing part was how much the top unit struggled. The Canes were solid for most of the penalty kill. But on a shift change by Gallant, the second unit that also had Zibanejad and Lindgren back out as it was winding down delivered an early blow.

On a good play in the neutral zone by Copp, he led Alexis Lafreniere into the Canes’ zone. Able to move in and slide a good back pass between the skates of Marty Necas, that allowed Fox to jump in and fire a wrist shot through traffic that beat Raanta top shelf with two seconds remaining on the power play.

Lafreniere made a smart play. He drew Necas to him knowing Fox was coming in behind. The back pass gave Fox a clear lane to beat a screened Raanta for the all important first goal at 3:40.

On the next shift, Trouba was sent off for high-sticking Kotkaniemi. It was already a critical juncture not even five minutes into the game.

Despite some good zone time, the Canes simply couldn’t score. They came close. After trying for some deflections, DeAngelo passed across for a Jarvis shot that hit the goalpost. That close to a tie game. Only one shot reached Shesterkin. A long DeAngelo try that he handled. It was a big kill.

The big Trouba hit came a couple of shifts later. On a play where the Hurricanes entered the Rangers zone, he stepped up on Jarvis after the rookie made a pass. Trouba caught him with a clean shoulder a bit high and to the side. There was a little head contact. Here’s how the play looked.

Obviously, this was a tough hit. The kind Trouba delivers. Unfortunately, Jarvis went down. With him struggling to make it back to the Canes’ bench, out came another player too early. That resulted in a bench minor. A pivotal part of the game.

On their second power play, they didn’t waste any time. Off a set play, Fox got the puck across for a Zibanejad one-timer that really was a pass right for an easy Kreider tip-in with nobody on him for a power play goal at 8:00.

The Canes were overly aggressive up top. When Skjei vacated the front, it left Kreider wide open for his specialty. A tip home past Raanta for his second of the series to put the Blueshirts up by two.

With the Hurricanes crowd getting antsy, they nearly got it back to pull within one. On a good Aho rush, he had Teravainen all set up. But a quick reacting Shesterkin got across the net to make the clutch pad save to rob Teravainen of a sure goal six seconds following Kreider’s goal.

He would also deny Kotkaniemi on a backhand in close. He was locked in. Ray Ferraro noticed it on ESPN. He just looked very calm in net. Exactly what you want to see from a great goalie in such a big game.

With the Rangers exiting the zone, Reaves got too aggressive by delivering a late hit on DeAngelo to go for interference. It put the Canes back on the man-advantage.

Shesterkin’s toughest save came on a weird Aho deflection where he got into the right position to handle it. The other two shots from DeAngelo and Necas were from way out without enough traffic.

After some strong work from Goodrow and Copp, it was back to even strength. Zibanejad nearly had Panarin for a three-goal lead. But Raanta got across to make a great save to deny him. He actually kept his team in it.

Raanta would also deny a Strome wraparound and Copp point blank on another strong shift from the Panarin line. He was again more effective throughout. Panarin did a better job of forechecking and also came back defensively.

Shesterkin continued to look steady. He handled a Necas shot and stayed with Andrei Svechnikov, who was shutdown. He only had one goal. Aho was also denied by Igor, who wasn’t letting anything in.

Trouba made two good defensive plays by breaking up Canes’ centering passes with a man wide open. He might’ve saved a goal. Before the first concluded, Raanta made a good stop on Kreider to keep it at 2-0.

While the stats certainly pointed to the Hurricanes, who had 31 attempts, the Rangers hung in there by blocking nine shots and cashing in on their two power plays. It wasn’t like they were outshot severely. But they definitely needed to tighten it up.

Not surprisingly, Jarvis was unable to return following the Trouba hit. Emily Kaplan provided the update before the second period began. You hate to see a player get hurt. Especially a promising kid like Jarvis, who’ll be a star.

Following a good cycle down low by Zibanejad, Kreider and Frank Vatrano, Nino Niederreiter was able to come out and get an opportunity in transition. His tricky backhand was shutdown by Shesterkin, who closed up the five-hole to get a whistle.

Following a bad turnover by Lafreniere at the Carolina blue line, Chytil picked him up defensively. Following some attack time by the Hurricanes, Chytil came out with the puck and skated in to get a backhand on Raanta that he handled. It was a very good play by the budding center.

The Rangers would go back on the power play due to a lazy Svechnikov trip on Goodrow. That came after the refs missed a Lafreniere high stick that caught Brendan Smith earlier.

It didn’t matter. The third man-advantage was putrid. They were very conservative. Part of it was the Hurricanes, who showed more urgency to kill the penalty. They didn’t allow any setup time or shots. Even without doing anything, the Rangers led in shots 6-2. A huge difference from the first period.

Vatrano received a hooking minor on Jesper Fast with just under 13 minutes to go. It was another chance for the Canes to get back in it. Instead, they only had one long shot from DeAngelo. Goodrow made two key blocks to help kill the penalty. What a gamer.

Also of note, Lindgren took a tough ride into the boards by Niederreiter. That came as they got Vatrano for the one penalty. Wes McCauley explained to Lindgren, who was able to miraculously return after missing a few minutes that the puck was there. It could’ve been boarding. But it wasn’t.

When he was in the locker room, Gallant opted to pair up Schneider with Trouba. Miller again worked with Fox like in the first round when Lindgren missed time. They were fine. Seeing Lindgren come back was unbelievable. The man is so tough. He really is Dan Girardi reincarnated.

Despite a few more Canes’ shots, nothing threatened Shesterkin, who also had a more committed defense. They laid out to block shots and force Carolina wide. That was a big story.

A key point happened late in the period. After Raanta tried to sprawl across to deny Zibanejad, whose shot was blocked, he went down. Unfortunately, he landed awkwardly after pushing off. It didn’t look good. He would exit with 4:23 left. It sucked to see him limp off.

That forced Kochetkov into action. He had relieved Raanta in Game Six. But this was completely different. He had to come in following an injury. Once he replaced Raanta, the Canes’ chances of winning took a dip.

On a two-on-one rush, Strome was all set up. But he somehow shot the puck back into Kochetkov, who made a good pad save. Then, Aho came up ice and nearly had Teravainen for a goal. But he missed completely. That miss really hurt the Hurricanes.

With the Carolina forwards changing, a DeAngelo pinch led to Miller trapping him. Panarin quickly got the puck up for Strome on another two-on-one. This time, he didn’t miss. He was able to beat Kochetkov short side by changing the angle for a three-goal lead with 3:41 left. Ferraro noticed how Strome changed the angle to fool Kochetkov. It was a good shot.

Urged on by the Ranger fans who were cheering in the crowd, they nearly made it 4-0. After a couple of saves from Shesterkin, Lafreniere made a power move towards the net, but had his backhand go wide. It would’ve been a nice goal had he pulled it off. He was really good in this game.

At the end of two periods, the Rangers were in control up 3-0. They played a much more complete second by competing in all facets. The Canes didn’t have many quality chances. Although the shots favored them 12-9, it was much more evenly played. The Blueshirts boxed out and cleared the net front.

As we already knew when he went down, Raanta was done for the night. Kochetkov would go the rest of the way. I too have a soft spot for Raanta, who’s as nice a player as there is. A very classy goalie, who once served as Henrik Lundqvist’s backup. It sucks that he got hurt.

With the Hurricanes trailing by three entering the third period, I knew they’d make an early push. Seeing Martinook interviewed between periods by Kaplan told the story. He said all the right things. But you could see the shock on his face.

Funny enough, it was Martinook who got a great early chance 30 seconds into the third. But Shesterkin calmly handled his shot from the slot with ease. But the Rangers settled down following the inauspicious start to the period.

On another DeAngelo pinch, Zibanejad and Vatrano worked the puck out for Kreider. Once he received the puck, he turned on the afterburners. Able to gain a step on Slavin, who tried as hard as he could, Kreider shielded his body and then made a great power move for a beautiful backhand finish past Kochetkov.

What a goal. This was vintage Kreider. He was able to use his size and speed to deny Slavin, who’s a good defenseman. Then buried the chance to make it 4-0 with 16:01 remaining. He was pumped. So were the Ranger contingent who made more noise in the third.

Kreider now ranks second all-time with 15 goals in elimination games. Only former legend Mark Messier has more. He had 16 over his brilliant Hall Of Fame career that saw him win six Cups including the last one as a Ranger in ’94. That’s the only time I’ll reference that.

They could’ve gone up five. A strong shift from the third line led to Kaapo Kakko and Chytil getting shots on Kochetkov, who turned them away. Since being reunited, that line has been very good. Gallant should keep them intact for Tampa.

On a failed clearing attempt, Trouba sent the puck out of play for a delay of game minor. On a rare miscue by Shesterkin, the Canes were denied by a diving Fox. But they stuck with it to break the shutout. DeAngelo was able to take an Aho pass and take a shot that Trocheck deflected in for only the Canes’ second power play goal of the series. It really let them down.

In the MSG postgame, Lundqvist noted that the Hurricanes never really changed their strategy on the five-on-four. He felt they were too predictable and weren’t shooting to score. They looked for a lot of tips in front and misdirection plays. Very deliberate too. Not enough movement.

Now down by three again with still 11:49 left, the Canes still had a pulse. But a bad turnover in their end wound up finishing them off. A Kakko takeaway on a Skjei turnover allowed him to push the back for a quick Chytil shot through the wickets on Kochetkov to restore a four-goal lead only 40 seconds later.

A pumped up Lafreniere gave Chytil a huge hug. You could see how much emotion there was. Those kids have great chemistry. It was nice to see Kakko hit the score sheet. He also nearly had a goal. A confidence boost that he played well.

As time wound down, you could hear the “Ig-or, Ig-or” and “Let’s Go Rangers,” chants pick up. For the Hurricanes fans who stayed, they still supported their team despite being out of the game. Had it been MSG in that situation, it would’ve been silent.

With under four minutes left, Kotkaniemi and Martinook set up Max Domi to cut the deficit to three with 3:47 remaining. That allowed them to eventually pull Kochetkov for a six-on-five.

Following a Shesterkin stop on Teravainen, who probably felt cursed given all the scoring chances he had, Goodrow and Zibanejad worked the puck out for Copp, who deposited it into the open net with 2:52 left.

The end was really a coronation. Gallant opted to rest his top guns. They were all smiles on the bench. As time wound down, there was plenty of celebrating while a cool Gallant made his way on the ice to greet a gracious Brind’Amour.

After they congratulated Igor, the traditional handshakes started. ESPN was sure to pick up DeAngelo who gave hugs to Kreider, Zibanejad, Fox and close friend Strome. Despite the shenanigans during a hard fought series, he showed class. More than you can say for some fans.

The only thing that didn’t make sense was ESPN opting not to show DeAngelo and Alex Georgiev. We all know the story. Maybe they didn’t feel it was necessary. I would imagine it wasn’t all warm and fuzzy between them. But I saw what I needed to see from DeAngelo, who had a series to forget along with partner Slavin.

ESPN also made sure to show the well respected Smith, who had some nice words for his former teammates. I have a lot of admiration for him. He took Miller and Kakko under his wing and was a great teammate. He plays that same role for the Hurricanes. Stick taps.

It definitely was eerie seeing a few of our former players greet the current Rangers. I felt bad for Raanta and Derek Stepan, who didn’t play in the series. Anyone who knows me knows I love Stepan. I hope he catches on elsewhere in a checking role.

It’s incredible to see this team have this kind of success. Wow. It’s unbelievable that they’re going to meet the Lightning for a chance at the Stanley Cup Finals. I’m so excited.

The Rangers and Lightning will begin tomorrow night at The Garden. Games 1 and 2 are both at 8 PM. Here’s the schedule.


Rangers vs Lightning

Wednesday, June 1 Lightning vs Rangers 8 PM ESPN

Friday, 6/3 Lightning vs Rangers 8 PM ESPN

Sunday, 6/5 Rangers at Lightning 3 PM ESPN

Tuesday, 6/7 Rangers at Lightning 8 PM ESPN

*Thursday, 6/9 Lightning at Rangers 8 PM ESPN

*Saturday, 6/11 Rangers at Lightning 8 PM ESPN

*Tuesday, 6/14 Lightning at Rangers 8 PM ESPN

*if necessary

It’ll be quite a challenge. Even if the Bolts don’t have Brayden Point, they boast Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, Vasilevskiy, Anthony Cirelli, Alex Killorn and old friend Ryan McDonagh. They’re a complete team.

You can’t put them on the power play. Kucherov is one of the most lethal setting things up from the right circle. Stamkos has a lethal one-timer in Ovi’s office. Hedman can shoot or pass from the point. They can use Corey Perry in the Point role. Cirelli can crash the net and retrieve pucks while Alex Killorn is capable. Ross Colton is the player to watch. He’s scored some big goals.

There are a lot of variables. McDonagh draws the checking assignments. He is very good at five-on-five and on the penalty kill. You can bet he’ll see a lot of Kreider and Zibanejad.

I’ll have a lot more on the challenge the Lightning present including in net. It’s going to be interesting. Plus Goodrow faces his former team. Good stuff.

Let’s enjoy what this team has accomplished. They’ve given us more than we ever could have asked for. Now, it’s a series against the best. A shot at the champs. I have friends on the other side. But now it’s war. Haha.

I could easily write a few more paragraphs. That’s how stoked I am. Congratulations to the Rangers! Let’s Go!!!!!

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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