The Rangers knew they needed a big game from their top stars if they were to beat the Carolina Hurricanes in game seven of their Eastern Conference Semi-Final series. They got a big game from their big guns.
Chris Kreider scored two goals, Mika Zibanejad had three assists and Igor Shesterkin continued his post season brilliance with 37 saves as the Rangers beat the Hurricanes, 6-2 to win game seven and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals against the two time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
It was the fifth elimination game won by the Rangers in these playoffs.
“We attacked a little bit, we battled. Again, our goalie [Shesterkin] led the way,” Head Coach Gerard Gallant said. “Made some great saves at key times. We took advantage of the power plays early in the hockey game. Got that lead on them, makes it tough to comeback when you get the two goal lead after the first
The crowd at Raleigh’s PNC Arena was ready to explode but the Rangers kept them subdued by getting the early lead.
The Rangers got an early power play when Sebastian Aho was off for hooking. Adam Fox took full advantage by scoring with the man advantage for a 1-0 lead at 3:40 of the first period.
Fox took a pass from Alexis LaFreniere and beat Hurricanes goaltender Antii Raanta with a wrister from just inside the right face-off circle.
Fox added an assist and set an NHL record for defenseman with 10 points in five elimination games in the same post season.
A little over seven and half minutes into the first, Jacob Trouba made his presence felt with one of his patented hard, but legal hits on Hurricanes’ rookie forward Seth Jarvis, knocking him out of the game.
Jarvis crawled back to the bench, but the Hurricanes were handed a bench penalty for too many men on the ice trying to sub for the rookie and the Rangers seized the opportunity once again.
Kreider deflected Zibanejad’s shot past Raanta for his 7th of the playoffs and a 2-0 Rangers lead. By scoring early, the Rangers were able to take the crowd out of the game, something that’s always a point of emphasis for the road team.
“We got two there early and it helped us, you know, quiet them down,” Fox said. “Obviously, when they get loud and they get momentum, it seems to swing the game but we did a good job of matching that and not really letting them get too into it.”
In past games, the Rangers would follow up a solid first period with a sub par second period, but not on this night.
Ryan Strome skated in on a two on one and fired a shot from the left faceoff dot that found the net for a 3-0 lead. It was Strome’s first goal of the series and his second of the playoffs as the Rangers skated off after two with a three goal lead.
After the third goal, Raanta was injured and left the game and replaced by Pyotr Kochetkov.
In the third period, the Rangers never took their foot off the gas to allow Carolina to gain some momentum and get back in the game.
Kreider took a pass from Frank Vatrano and sped down the left wing side. The Ranger veteran skated past Kochetkov and lifted a back hander to the back of the net for his second of the game and 8th of the playoffs for a 4-0 lead.
Vincent Trocheck got Carolina on the board with a goal at 8:11 of the third to make it a 4-1 game but it took only :40 seconds for the Rangers to nullify that momentum.
Filip Chytil got behind the defense in the offensive zone and picked up a loose puck and fired it past Kochetkov from point blank range to give the Rangers a commanding 5-1 lead with a little over 11 minutes remaining.
Max Domi scored with less than four minutes remaining to make it 5-2. Carolina pulled the goalie and Andrew Copp completed the scoring with an empty netter.
Gallant was proud of his team’s compete level. “You gotta pay a price to win games in this league especially against real good teams like that,” he said. “I love the way our guys are competin’ and battlin’ and I said it a hundred times this year. We’re not perfect but we find ways to win.”
Rangers continue to demonstrate the resilience and character that has earmarked their season to this point. They’ll need that and more against a Tampa Bay Lightning team that is tested and rested.
The Lightning have not played since May 23rd when they swept the Florida Panthers. Rangers were 3-0 against the Lightning during the regular season but you can throw those results out the window. The Rangers have the home advantage so game one is Wednesday night at the Garden.
The series will be highlighted by the goaltender match up as two of the best in the sport will be manning the nets. Tampa Bay has former Vezina Trophy winner and last season’s Conn Smythe winner Andrei Vasilevskiy. The 27-year old is deemed by many to be the best goaltender in the sport, with the Rangers’ Igor Shesterkin a very close second.
The Rangers are halfway to a Stanley Cup. Can they complete the mission? It will be worth watching.