A Russian forward has taken control of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers series between the Hurricanes and Rangers.
No, it isn’t New York’s Hart Trophy finalist, Artemi Panarin. It is 20-year-old Andrei Svechnikov.
Carolina’s second-year winger had a hat trick Monday afternoon and the Hurricanes established a stranglehold on their play-in round matchup, winning 4-1 and taking a 2-0 lead in the five-game series.
Svechnikov scored in all three periods, all in different ways, to carry Carolina to the brink of advancing into the NHL’s 16-team playoff bracket.
“I don’t think you’d be surprised if someone said before the game someone’s gonna get a hat trick, you definitely have to throw his name in there,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said of Svechnikov. “He’s just got a lot of talent. I think it’s his first hat trick, but I think you’ll get a few more before his time’s over in his career.”
Svechnikov got his first early to help the Hurricanes get off to fast start for the second straight game.
Last year’s second overall pick got the puck at the left circle from Sebastian Aho and wristed a short-side shot past Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30 saves) for a 1-0 lead 4:32 into the game.
Panarin did get one of his own, tying the game with a 5-on-3 power play goal at 12:05 of the first, and Brind’Amour called Carolina “fortunate” to have escaped the first period tied.
They had Petr Mrazek (23 saves) to thank for it.
Mrazek (23 saves) made several stops to keep the game close — including two dazzling glove saves on Brett Howden and Mika Zibanejad that stifled the Rangers’ attempt to seize momentum.
“You’ve got to get Petr a lot of credit,” Brind’Amour said. “He made some real big saves to just allow us to kind of get into the game.”
It also helped Mrazek — often fueled by the crowd yet playing a “home game” in an empty arena — get on his game.
“I saw the puck really well today, especially the first period,” Mrazek said. “And the glove, I think it set the tone.”
Carolina rewarded its goalie early in the second when Svechnikov struck again, this time with a power play goal.
With Brendan Smith in the box for high sticking, Carolina needed just three seconds of extra-man time to regain the lead. Aho won the initial faceoff back to Sami Vatanen, who slid the puck to Svechnikov at the right point for a slap shot that went over Lundqvist’s right shoulder for a 2-1 lead just 71 seconds into the middle frame.
Then just over a minute later, Carolina’s fourth line — sparsely used in Game 1 due to all the penalties, but effective nonetheless — provided a two-goal cushion.
Jordan Martinook shoveled the puck past Lundqvist off an assist from Morgan Geekie — in just his fourth career NHL game — for a 3-1 lead at 2:22 of the middle frame. The assist was the first career playoff point for Geekie, who burst on the scene back in March with four points in his first two career NHL games.
“I think it starts from even before the pause. … He’s poised,” Martinook said of the 22-year-old rookie. “He holds on to pucks. He works.”
Then in the third, Svechnikov delivered the dagger — again with help from his centerman.
Aho stole a bobbling puck from Ryan Strome at the Carolina blue line and raced toward the New York zone. Svechnikov joined the rush, and Aho feathered a pass past Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba that Svechnikov lifted over a cartwheeling Lundqvist for a 4-1 lead and his first career hat trick at 14:02 of the third period.
“I’m excited to score my first hat trick, especially on a superstar goalie,” said Svechnikov, who became the first player in franchise history to score three goals in a playoff game.
The sequence gave Svechnikov four points and Aho five in the series’ first two games — and showed how the Hurricanes, when they stay out of the penalty box, can overwhelm their opponents with wave after wave of forechecking.
“I felt like after the first, everybody was in the game and we’re kind of rolling four lines, and that’s what need to do to be successful,” Martinook said of the team staying out of the penalty box after taking 11 minor penalties in the first four periods of the series. “In the third period, they iced the puck a couple of times and they got their sticks on their knees, and that’s what we want to see because the next line up is going and trying to do the exact same thing.”
And the Hurricanes will have a chance to do more of the same in Tuesday night’s Game 3 — with a shot to close out the series and build on Monday’s effort.
“It wasn’t a great game for us, but we’ll take it, that’s for sure,” Brind’Amour said.
Notes: The Hurricanes didn’t make any changes to their lineup, while New York dressed Steven Fogarty in place of Jesper Fast. Fast was injured on a hit by Hurricanes defenseman Brady Skjei in the opening shifts of Game 1. … Vatanen had two assists for Carolina and has three total for the series. … Joel Edmundson finished with a game-high seven shots on goal, and Svechnikov led all players with six hits. … Rangers defenseman Tony DeAngelo received 14 minutes in penalties, including a misconduct, in the third period after a skirmish with Martinook following Carolina’s fourth goal.