Hurricanes officially eliminated from postseason for ninth straight year

Henrik Lundqvist made 40 saves in helping the Rangers deal Carolina a 2-1 loss

Rangers defensemen Ryan Sproul celebrates his second period goal against the Hurricanes at PNC Arena. (James Guillory / USA TODAY Sports)

RALEIGH — In the penultimate home game of the 2017-18 season on Saturday, the Carolina Hurricanes continued their tradition of giving away their game-worn sweaters to selected fans in a postgame on-ice ceremony.

In what’s also become commonplace, the Hurricanes were officially eliminated from the playoffs for the ninth straight season, losing 2-1 to the New York Rangers in front of 14,993 at PNC Arena.

“I think we’ve known for a while, obviously,” Hurricanes co-captain Jordan Staal said of the team officially missing the postseason. “Officially, unofficially, we still gotta be ready to work and be a pro and show up and win games and play well for our fans.”

Carolina outshot the Rangers by more than a two-to-one margin (41-20) but had difficulty solving New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist (40 saves), who improved to 28-11-1 in his career against the Hurricanes.

Despite a busy opening period that saw the two teams combine for 24 shots on goal, both starting goalies held their ground.

The Rangers finally broke through early in the second.

After Ward stopped rookie Filip Chytil on a breakaway for the second time on the night, the Rangers maintained control of the puck in the zone. Eventually, Paul Carey found defenseman Ryan Sproul cruising through the slot, and Sproul beat Cam Ward (18 saves) for his first goal of the season and a 1-0 New York lead at 3:01 of the middle period.

The Hurricanes had a chance to seize back some momentum when Jordan Staal drew a penalty on Rangers center Mika Zibanejad. But just seconds into the man advantage, New York forced a turnover and raced down ice on a 2-on-1. Jesper Fast feathered a pass through Justin Faulk that Kevin Hayes batted in to make it 2-0 at 13:23 of the second.

“The shortie’s the game-winner, right?” Hurricanes coach Bill Peters said. “So that’s the difference in the hockey game, obviously.”

Carolina got on the board with less than 12 minutes remaining when Derek Ryan, working behind the Rangers net, backhanded the puck to Jeff Skinner in front for a quick finish that cut the deficit in half.

The Hurricanes pushed down the stretch, with more than 2½ minutes of time with an extra attacker — including 74 seconds with a 6-on-4 power play — but could not get the equalizer past Lundqvist.

“It would have been nice to get one on the PP,” Skinner said. “We had a couple good chances, but the execution wasn’t there. I think, overall, we had enough chances 5-on-5, too, to be able to get one by. … We just weren’t able to get one in. It seems to be sort of a problem that’s happened a bunch this year, but we couldn’t find that second one.”

Peters echoed Skinner on the team’s game- and season-long struggles to find the back of the net.

“We had a hard time scoring against this team, for sure,” he said of the Rangers, who completed the four-game season sweep with the win. “We have a hard time scoring in general.”

It leaves the Hurricanes with three remaining games — and officially left them playing for only pride after their loss eliminated them from going beyond the 82nd game.

“It’s part of being a pro,” Staal said. “It’s building a team, it’s building an organization, it’s building a work ethic, and no one likes losing. So it’s never fun walking out here with a loss, so it’s always better to play hard for each other and find ways to win, whether they mean something or not.”

Notes: The Hurricanes’ television broadcast featured a picture-in-picture tracking of Sebastian Aho throughout the game. Aho finished the game minus-2 and was move from center to wing to start the third period. … Skinner was credited with a game-high eight shots on goal. … Ryan’s point streak reached four games with his assist on Skinner’s goal. He has one goal and five assists in that stretch.