RALEIGH, NC (AP) — Nothing’s bothering these New York Rangers, not a multi-game playoff deficit or playing in a building where no team on the road has won in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Instead, this resilient group is carrying ever-growing confidence straight into the Eastern Conference Finals, thanks to another win in Game 7 and the latest strong performance from the game’s top goaltender.
Chris Kreider scored twice, Igor Shesterkin was strong in net again and the Rangers ended Carolina’s perfect playoff run at home, beating the Hurricanes 6-2 in the deciding Game 7 of their series second-round playoff Monday night.
Kreider and Adam Fox scored power-play goals in the first period as the Rangers took an early lead. Rangers then mounted Shesterkin’s latest offensive performance to claim a fifth straight playoff win in this playoff.
“Back against the wall five times now,” Fox said, “and we’ve been through all five.”
Shesterkin – a finalist for the Vezina Trophy for the league’s top goaltender and the Hart Trophy for most valuable player – finished with 36 saves and had the shutout until the third period.
Now the Rangers advance to a conference final for the first time since 2015, winning a matchup with two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay. New York will host the first game of this series on Wednesday night.
Ryan Strome and Filip Chytil also scored in what turned out to be an unexpected rout, with Andrew Copp adding a late empty-netter. More impressively, the Rangers victory came in an arena where the Hurricanes had gone 7-0 in the playoffs, including a Game 7 victory to beat Boston in the first round and three meetings in this series.
New York coach Gerard Gallant said Sunday he has a group of players who are “having a lot of fun and believing in themselves.” They looked to do a lot of both on Monday to cap a second straight win after a multi-game deficit.
First, they rallied from a 3-1 to beat Pittsburgh in a seven-game series. Then, after falling to an 0-2 hole against Carolina, New York responded with more resilience, even a stubborn refusal to step aside when down.
Kreider went so far as to make a comparison with “cockroaches”.
“We’re not leaving no matter the score, no matter where our game is,” Kreider said.
There were no questions about that Monday night, especially with Shesterkin resisting 17 shots in the first period. That included a flat-on-back save on Sebastian Aho near the right post, with Shesterkin hooking the puck between his legs while waving, as if trying to make a snow angel late in the first period.
Rangers also helped by blocking 25 shots past him.
“You have to pay a price to win games in this league, especially against really good teams like that,” Gallant said. “I like the way our guys compete and fight. I’ve said it 100 times this year, we’re not perfect but we find ways to win.
Vincent Trocheck eventually beat Shesterkin with a deflection on a Tony DeAngelo shot midway through the third period, only to see Rangers follow with Chytil’s goal just 40 seconds later to push the margin to 5-1.
Max Domi also scored a late goal for the Hurricanes.
But Carolina lost top rookie forward Seth Jarvis to injury in the first period after a Jacob Trouba hit, then lost goaltender Antti Raanta to an apparent injury to the right leg in the second period on a difficult night. Raanta made 16 saves before his injury, while rookie Pyotr Kochetkov allowed three goals on 12 shots in relief.
“Tonight there were just a few rebounds, not everyone was there, including myself,” Carolina captain Jordan Staal said. “An unfortunate way to end the series – the season.”
Carolina’s success in the playoffs relied on home advantage, backed by a rowdy crowd. But his inability to win a single road game in the playoffs only reduced the Hurricanes’ margin of error and made winning at home an absolute necessity to keep playing.
As a result, the first and only stumble at home proved fatal, a crushing end to a season that saw the division winner, with the NHL’s third-best record, set franchise records for season wins. regular (54) and points (116) with aspirations to win his second Cup.
“It’s definitely a shame to have the team — the caliber of the team — that we’ve made,” said Carolina defenseman Jaccob Slavin, “and not go any further.
The Hurricanes were 6-0 in Game 7 since the former Hartford Whalers moved to North Carolina in 1997. They were trying to become the first team in NHL history to win seven straight Game 7s.
Carolina was also trying to become the first to win multiple best-of-seven series in the same postseason with zero wins on the road.
When Fox scored and assisted on Kreider’s first goal, it pushed him to 10 points in playoff games this postseason.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, this scores the most by a defenseman in a single postseason, surpassing Ray Bourque in 1980, Ian Turnbull in 1976 and Denis Potvin in 1975.
Jarvis was knocked out of the game on Trouba’s hit, which sent him sprawling on the ice and left him only able to crawl to the bench. When he got there, he was too wobbly to sit on the bench and needed help from his teammates to make his way to the locker room.
To make matters worse, the Hurricanes were awarded a penalty for too many men on the ice as they tried to replace Jarvis, which led to Kreider’s first goal.
Ranta fell with 4:23 left in the second period when he extended his right leg into a split to make a save on Mika Zibanejad. He nearly rolled forward and landed face down on the ice. He was eventually helped off the ice by teammates Vincent Trocheck and Nino Niederreiter, putting no weight on his right leg.
Afterwards, coach Rod Brind’Amour said Raanta’s injury would have kept him out of the next series, had Carolina won.
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Aaron Beard, The Associated Press