It was billed as a battle for first place and in that case, the New York Rangers came up short. Despite taking a 1-0 lead and going into the third period tied 1-1, the Carolina Hurricanes scored two early third period goals to take what seemed like an unsurmountable lead. Chris Kreider got his fiftieth goal when they pulled Shesterkin, but it was too little too late. An empty net goal for the Hurricanes sealed the deal.
While this was a “yardstick” game and the Rangers lost, it was a close game and hopefully the Blueshirts learned something from it. Before anyone bemoans the outcome and sees it as a harbinger of things to come, it’s worth looking at the Hurricanes.
People forget that most experts thought the Rangers would beat the Hurricanes in their best-of-five Stanley Cup Qualifier in 2020. Forgotten was the fact that Carolina had gotten to the Eastern Conference Finals in a Cinderella season the year before when they won two playoff rounds after missing the playoffs for nine years. They had a new coach in Rod Brind’Amour for that amazing run.
In 2020, despite the win over New York, they lost in the First Round to Boston in five games.
In 2020-21, the Hurricanes became one of the best teams in the NHL, finishing two points short of the Presidents’ Trophy. What did they do in the playoffs? They beat Nashville in six games in the First Round, then lost the Second Round to Tampa in five games.
It’s a cautionary tale that Ranger players and fans need to remember. Carolina is a great team, but after winning only one playoff round in two years, if they don’t go deep in the postseason, the criticism will get very very loud. They are very aware of that and it showed in their push in the third period.
For Gerard Gallant, after a good first period, the game slipped away, but he did say that of the three games against Carolina this season, this was their best effort. “Tonight was an even game. I thought the second period was the difference, they had too much time in our zone, too much puck possession, they were outbumping us in our zone, but we learned some lessons.”
The one thing the Rangers have proven all season long is that they are capable of learning lessons. Despite the loss, this is the kind of game that they needed to play as they prepare for the playoffs.
They need to fix their power play and remember to play a full 60 minutes and it will do them a service to remember how the Hurricanes played in the third period when they needed to raise their level of play.