Though the goal totals were high in a couple of the other road losses, Raanta has actually been decent or better in the Canes road losses leading up to game 6. That was not the case on Saturday night, and he was gone early in the second period because of it. With the Canes mostly carrying play and with an 8 to 2 shots on goal advantage, Raanta had a seemingly harmless shot from a ways out go right through him to stake the Rangers to a 1-0 lead. Then shortly thereafter, he got worked like a rookie by Mika Zibanejad for another goal right through the five hold. Off the rush, Zibanejad paused and kept carrying past the point where it made most sense to take a shot for a decent shooting angle. Then right when Raanta seemed to give up on the shot and start getting ready to push off the post to meet Zibanejad on the other side after he circled the net, Zibanejad instead surprised Raanta with a shot that went right through him. Then he was beaten short side off the rush.
Raanta has been incredibly good and pretty consistent even on the road thus far. I would come right back to him with confidence and without hesitation for game 7.
Hidden behind Raanta’s struggles was a possibly even more brutal night for the third defense pairing of Brendan Smith and Ian Cole.
The second Rangers goal came on a power play opportunity created when Brendan Smith took an offensive zone penalty. The second Rangers goal came when Smith and Cole gave up not one but two 2-on-1 rushes on the same shift. First, Smith had a tough turnover at the offensive blue line that had him trying to defend a 2-on-1 for which disaster was averted. But on the same shift, Smith got caught pinching leaving partner Cole to defend another 2-on-1. Cole mostly just kept backing up which gave Chytil time to dust the puck off, pause and pick a corner. The fourth Rangers goal came when Chytil beat Smith off the wall cleanly and walked in alone. Cole was in front of the net, but instead of challenging he sat back and basically became a screen on Kochetkov who never saw the shot that beat him. Finally, the fifth Rangers goal came when Cole took an unnecessary cross-checking penalty to turn a 4-on-4 into a 4-on-3 play that the resulted in another goal against. With only 7:45 of ice time and 14:42 of ice time respectively for Smith and Cole, that is a lot of problems.
Couple the two new problems with an all too familiar minus 2 goals on special teams and that makes for a 5-2 loss. The Canes were o for 3 on the power play, missing on a couple chances that could have pulled them within a single goal.
It might sound odd, but there were some positives buried under a couple big problems that were too much to overcome.
The Canes dictated play for some extended stretches including the start of the game and also parts of the second period when things opened up. The Canes outshot the Rangers in all three periods and by a total of 39 to 25 for the game. More significantly, I think the needed/critical to get bodies to the top of the crease was actually there. Trocheck’s goal came from chaos in front. Brady Skjei’s goal was through a Seth Jarvis’ screen. And in general, the Canes made a good effort to get pucks and bodies to the net at the same time.
Looking forward to game 7, of course anything can happen in a game 7. A couple random goals off defensemen’s skates in the first period could decide the game. And facing a goalie who is playing really well right now is scary especially if you get down a goal or two early.
That said, the Canes are 7-0 at home in the playoffs. That is not the result of wildly random luck winning seven consecutive coin flips. Rather, the ability to start from Jordan Staal’s line matching up against the other team’s top scoring line has been a tremendously advantageous starting point. Add in the ability to select when/who the fourth line and third defense pairing plays against also helps.
Despite another miss on the road, the Canes enter game 7 as the favorite and with the ability to win and advance just by repeating what they have been doing at home throughout the playoffs. Though definitely treacherous in a winner takes all game, that is still a good place to be on Memorial Day.