The New York Rangers looked like a desperate team Tuesday night. As it turned out, they weren’t desperate enough.
Five minutes into the third period, Warren Foegele redirected a shot past Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin to give the Hurricanes its first lead of the game, and Sebastian Aho then undressed Rangers defenseman Tony DeAngelo and scored just over five minutes later en route to a 4-1 Game 3 win and a sweep in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers series at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.
Carolina would not have even been in a tie game in the third if not for James Reimer, who got the start in goal for Game 3 after Petr Mrazek won Games 1 and 2. Reimer, making his first postseason start since 2013, made 14 first period saves and 37 overall, none better than a paddle save during a chaotic scrum late in the second period on Filip Chytil that set the tone for a dominant third period by Carolina.
“Guys were flying all over the place,” Reimer said. “And it’s kind of a helpless feeling because you don’t want to move and kick the puck in, and you’re trying to find it. … Obviously, I was out of position. At that point, you just throw your stick out there. You dive back and, hopefully, it’s good. Lucky enough for me this time, it did.”
Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said the team planned to get Reimer (37 saves) into a game after deciding to start the series with Mrazek in net.
“It could’ve easy to say stick with Petr because he was phenomenal yesterday as well, but … I think the right move, obviously,” Brind’Amour said.
And then there’s Aho, who added an empty-net goal in the final minute to finish the three-game series with three goals and five assists, registering multiple points in each game. In all the Hurricanes’ top line of Aho, Andrei Svechinkov and Teuvo Teravainen — who had the tying goal early in the second period — totaled seven goals and nine assists in the series.
“Great players rise to the occasion and your best players have to be your best players, and he came through for us tonight,” Brind’Amour said of Aho.
The performance came a day after Aho assisted on all three of linemate Andrei Svechnikov’s three goals. And like the 20-year-old was quick to credit his linemates for his hat trick Monday, Aho said his success in the team’s return can be contributed to the talent on either side of him.
I’ve got two really, really high-end players on my wings, and both helped me a lot out there,” Aho said of Svechnikov and Teravainen. “And I think we play pretty well together.”
Despite the end result, it was the Rangers who carried play most of the opening two periods, desperately trying to stay in the five-game series.
“Listen, human nature,” Brind’Amour said of Carolina’s stale performance in the opening 40 minutes. “We’re up 2-nothing and the other team, the Rangers, weren’t going to go away. … That’s kind of what happens, and that’s why you need a goalie. Our goalie was what kept us in this game. Reims was phenomenal, and eventually we got into the fight.”
After the Rangers dominated the first period but couldn’t solve Reimer, New York finally broke through at the start of the second.
Chris Kreider — a nonfactor in the series’ first two games — scored just 12 seconds into the middle frame, accelerating past Carolina defenseman Sami Vatanen and scoring on his forehand to give the Rangers their first lead of the series, 1-0.
The lead didn’t last long.
The Hurricanes had their best shift of the game — and perhaps the series — by holding the puck in the Rangers end for 75 seconds before a loose puck was pounced on by Teravainen in the slot. Teravainen went to his backhand and lifted the puck past Igor Shesterkin (27 saves) to tie the game at 3:18 of the second.
Shesterkin got the nod after longtime New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist started Games 1 and 2, snapping the future Hall of Famer’s 129-game playoff streak with the Rangers.
It didn’t matter.
Foegele’s redirection — off a shot by defenseman Brady Skjei, traded by New York to Carolina at the trade deadline — got past the Russian rookie, who went 10-2-0 after being called up by the Rangers in January, at 5:07 of the third to put the Hurricanes up 2-1.
Then Aho stole the puck from Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba and danced past DeAngelo, backhanding a shot over Shesterkin for the death blow on the game and series.
“Elite,” Foegele said of the goal.
Aho then scored an empty-netter with 31 seconds left to cap the scoring.
The Hurricanes, the first of the NHL’s qualifying teams to officially earn a postseason berth, will now have to wait a week to play one of the four Eastern Conference round-robin teams in the Stanley Cup Playoffs first round. They’ll also have time to heal — and perhaps get back defenseman Dougie Hamilton in time for Game 1 of their next series.
“This is going to be tricky, I’m going to be quite honest,” Brind’Amour said of another layoff.
“On the other hand, we will hopefully get some injury guys back. … So we’re gonna enjoy it tonight and then we’ll figure out the rest as we move on.”
The Rangers, meanwhile, will return to New York on Wednesday having waited four-plus months to be unceremoniously ousted from the 2019-20 season in three straight games.
“Obviously, it sucks that we’re done,” Rangers center Mika Zibanejad said. “It’s an empty feeling.”
Notes: Carolina held Hart Trophy finalist Artemi Panarin to two points in the three games: one 5-on-3 power play goal and an assist. … Zibanejad, a thorn in the Hurricanes’ side all season, also had a goal and an assist in the series. … DeAngelo was minus-4 for the Rangers in Game 3 and minus-6 for the series. … Aho’s eight points lead all players in playoff scoring, two more than Edmonton teammates Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. … Svechnikov is tied for fourth in playoff scoring with five points. … Sami Vatanen’s three assists are tied for the most among playoff defensemen. … Reimer’s 37 saves were just the fourth-most he’s made in seven career playoff starts. Reimer had games with 43, 41 and 39 saves in three of his seven starts with the Maple Leafs in 2013. He faced at least 40 shots in four of those games.