NHL: Rangers close out Hurricanes in Game 6

Published 12:25 am Friday, May 17, 2024

By AARON BEARD AP Sports Writer

 RALEIGH — The New York Rangers went from cruising through the NHL playoffs with an unbeaten record to suddenly struggling to close out a second-round series despite having a huge lead.

Worse, they found themselves down entering the third period with the prospect of having to play a Game 7.

Instead, Chris Kreider took over to ensure the Presidents’ Trophy winners finally closed out the Carolina Hurricanes and earned their spot in the Eastern Conference Final.

Kreider had a third-period hat trick to help the Rangers erase a two-goal deficit and beat the Hurricanes 5-3 in Game 6 on Thursday night, a stunning reversal after their postseason momentum had gone decidedly in the wrong direction.

“We talk about being a resilient group and a competitive group,” Kreider said, “and I think we showed that tonight.”

Kreider single-handedly erased the Hurricanes’ 3-1 lead entering the final period. The go-ahead score — which also completed the natural hat trick — came when he got position on Jalen Chatfield at the top of the crease and tipped in Ryan Lindgren’s pass to make it 4-3 at the 15:41 mark.

That made Kreider the third Rangers player to score three goals in a series-clinching game and first since Mike Gartner in 1990. It was also reminiscent of famed captain Mark Messier’s “guarantee” game in 1994, when he had a third-period hat trick in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final against New Jersey after promising the Rangers would force a seventh game. The Rangers went on to win the series and their most recent Stanley Cup title that season.

Kreider’s heroics finally allowed the Rangers to put away the Hurricanes, who had won two straight after falling into a 3-0 hole in the best-of-7 series. The Hurricanes appeared on the verge of forcing a Game 7 for a pressure-packed finale, but couldn’t contain the Rangers’ surge in the final 14 minutes.

“We just had to go out there and make a decision in the third period,” said Vincent Trocheck, a former Hurricane who scored the Rangers’ first goal on a second-period deflection. “Either show up and play and be a part of the series, or don’t. I think we had 20 guys show up in the third.”

Barclay Goodrow finished this one off by getting to a loose puck near the boards and scoring a long empty-net goal in the final minute, sending Goodrow to the nearby Rangers bench to be mobbed by teammates.

That sent the Rangers on to the Eastern Conference Final to face the Boston-Florida winner, with the Panthers leading that series 3-2.

Kreider’s first goal came at the 6:43 mark when he jammed the puck through against the left skate of Frederik Andersen, who had stopped Mika Zibanejad near the right post as Zibanejad skated in. He followed by tipping in a shot by Artemi Panarin on the power play to tie it at 3 at the 11:54 mark.

“Their top guys took over in the third there once they got that one,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said.

Igor Shesterkin hung in after a pressured first two periods, finishing with 33 saves and coming up with a big stop on Jordan Staal near the crease and another tying chance from Andrei Svechnikov off a faceoff win in the third period.

Martin Necas, Seth Jarvis and Sebastian Aho scored for Carolina, while Andersen finished with 19 saves.

The Hurricanes also missed on multiple late chances to increase their lead, with Jordan Martinook — who had a highlight-reel sliding effort to knock away a loose puck from the goal line midway through the second period — and Jake Guentzel each pinging the metal past Shesterkin to come up empty.

There was also a big opportunity in the third when two Rangers collided and fell to the ice in their own end, leaving Aho with a 1-on-1 chance on Shesterkin. But as Aho skated in from the left circle, he went wide right of the net as he tried to move to his backhand.

Those missed chances added up to a brutal exit for the Hurricanes, a team that was in the playoffs for the sixth time in as many seasons under Brind’Amour and has been open about the goal of breaking through to win the Cup.

Carolina finished three points behind the Rangers for the Presidents’ Trophy awarded to the top team in the regular-season standings, and entered the NHL playoffs as the favorite to win the Stanley Cup, according to Bet MGM Sportsbook. But the Rangers followed a Round 1 sweep of Washington by winning the first three games by one-goal margins — two coming in overtime — to threaten an unexpectedly quick resolution amid a 7-0 postseason start.

Carolina successfully beat back their power-play struggles for the Game 4 winner to stay alive, then rallied from a 1-0 deficit with four straight third-period goals to win Game 5 in Madison Square Garden and bring the series back to Raleigh.

Days later, the Rangers returned the favor with four straight of their own in the third, leaving a boisterous Hurricanes crowd in stunned disbelief. And it marked the second time in three seasons the Rangers eliminated the Hurricanes on their home ice in the second round, with the 2022 win coming in seven games.

“This puts a tough way to end a really good year,” Brind’Amour said. “These guys played their butts off all year. But this is what you’re going to remember. And that’s the hard part.”