Led primarily by offense from the third defense pairing, the Carolina Hurricanes seized a 2-0 series lead over the New York Rangers after the first pair of games on home ice.
Had a made a list of the top 500 story lines coming out of game 2, this would not have made the cut. And that unpredictability is part of what makes playoff hockey intriguing and (when your team is winning) fun.
The game actually played out somewhat similar to the first game. The Canes against struggled with puck management in the first period, and it came very close to costing them on multiple occasions. Though the Canes outshot the Rangers 8 to 5, the Rangers had the better of the dangerous chances or near chances. In desperation mode on a couple occasions, the Canes had key blocked shots to keep the puck out of their net and finished the first period with 11 total blocked shots.
Also a bit like the game 1 win, the Canes were somewhat better but still not really dominant in the second period. A tight-checking, low offensive event second period seemed to take a turn for the worse when Brady Skjei took a double minor for high-sticking. The Canes killed off the front part of the Rangers power play and then did even better when Sebastian Aho capitalized when a Rangers defender played a shorthanded rush like a 2-on-2 when in fact Brendan Smith was behind the second Rangers defender. Smith received the pass and deftly finished in along to take a 1-0 lead and seize momentum. The Canes had a chance to build on the lead with a 5-on-3 but were unable to capitalize. That set the stage for a nail biter of a third period.
The Canes did a solid job of playing simple hockey in the third period advancing pucks out of the defensive zone and moving them from the neutral zone to the far wall. That resulted in a couple extended stretches during which the Rangers could not get much going offensively. Past that the Rangers also did not catch a break on the few decent chances they had shooting into traffic and/or trying to get a deflection. In the waning minutes, Ian Cole barely missed an empty net before Sebastian Aho made it 2-0 with only a couple seconds remaining.
Player and other notes
1) Brendan Smith
Whereas Ian Cole’s was more of a “good things can happen when you shoot the puck” break on Wednesday, Smith’s goal was a pretty finish. Igor Shesterkin had gotten across, so if Smith did not lift the puck as can often happen with defensemen on the rush, he would have been stopped. Instead Smith beat Shesterkin for the game-winner. Good for the blue line lunch pailers getting rewarded with a couple huge playoff goals.
2) Sebastian Aho
In a game in which there was not much for offense, Aho again made a key play with his pretty assist to Smith. I mostly write off empty-netters, but on a night when there was only one regular goal scored, Aho set it up.
3) Jordan Staal’s line
Every win has a scoring hero or two, but the real story of the Canes success on home ice continues to be Niederreither/Staal/Fast shutting down the opposing team’s best scorers. After 11 points for Zibanejad and 5 goals for Kreider in seven games in the first round, the duo had exactly zero points in two games in Raleigh.
4) Antti Raanta
He continues to be solid. Had he not played well in the first period of either game (especially game 1), the result would likely have been different. Raanta just continues to be solid.
5) Seth Jarvis
He continues to impress me. His game has significantly more rugged than one would expect from a 5 foot 10 inch, 175-pound rookie. He does not win every puck battle on the boards, but he consistently sticks his nose in and also is consistently willing to take a hit to make a play.
6) Brett Pesce
After another slow start, the defense settled in and had a strong second and third period. Of the group Brett Pesce took top honors defensively for me. He had a couple key blocks in the first period when the Canes were running around a bit defensively and in general just gave up pretty much nothing all game. That said, the defensemen in general had a strong game from the beginning of the second period onward.
7) Is the road different this time?
After two home wins, it might feel like the Canes have charted a course to a series win in four or five games. But that is exactly how the Bruins series started too, and one could even argue that the Canes won the first two at home more impressively against the Bruins. But unable to win in three tries on the road against Boston led to a long series Do the Canes have it in them to win one of two at Madison Square Garden to tee up an possible elimination game 5 at home? Doing so will require the Canes to be much sounder from top to bottom and for lines other than Staal’s to hold their own defensively.
Just like the Boston series, next up is a Sunday matinee (3:30pm start) that represents a chance to run out to a 3-0 lead and take a step closer to a shorter series.