Hurricanes run out of Game 7 magic in season-ending loss to Rangers

Special teams proved to be the difference as New York snapped Carolina's streaks of seven straight home wins and six straight Game 7 victories

The Hurricanes' Brady Skjei, Martin Necas and Nino Niederreiter tend to injured goaltender Antti Raanta after he was hurt during the second period of Carolina's 6-2 loss in Monday's Game 7 against the New York Rangers in Raleigh. (Chris Seward / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — There’s an old hockey adage that the playoffs don’t really begin until the home team loses a game.

If that’s the case, then this year’s postseason finally got started for the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday. And because it did, the Canes’ season is suddenly over.

The regular season Metropolitan Division champions picked the worst possible time to have their luck at both PNC Arena and in Game 7s run out, surrendering two early power play goals and never recovering on the way to a season-ending 6-2 loss to the New York Rangers.

“It’s frustrating,” said defenseman Jaccob Slavin of the untimely result. “It’s definitely a bummer to have the caliber of team that we did and not go farther.” 

The Canes had won their first seven home games through the first two rounds of this postseason, a franchise record, and had won six straight series-deciding games dating back to their Stanley Cup season of 2006.

But the Rangers were also on a streak, having won four straight elimination games — including Game 6 of this series Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.

They were able to continue theirs and earn an Eastern Conference Final date with the two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning by dominating special teams.

Carolina continued its postseason-long futility on the power play by coming up empty on their first three opportunities while the outcome was still in doubt. They finished this series with just two goals in 18 tries and were a dismal 7 for 54 in their eight playoff games.

New York, meanwhile, scored on its first two opportunities with the man advantage.

“Everyone is better in the playoffs and we’ve got to elevate our game, especially on the PK side,” Slavin said. “We’ve got to be able to stay out of the box, too. You give teams chances and chances and chances with their best players playing at their best, things are bound to happen.”

And they did in Game 7. Twice.

The first goal came after a hooking penalty to Sebastian Aho just 1:42 into the game which negated the early momentum the Canes were in the process of building. Even then, Carolina nearly killed it off. 

But two seconds before Aho was to come out of the box, Adam Fox snapped a wrist shot from between the circles that beat goalie Antti Raanti on his glove side after the Canes failed to clear their zone.

Four minutes later, the Rangers were given another power play. This one was doubly damaging for the Canes.

Not only did they lose rookie forward Seth Jarvis, arguably their best player in the postseason, to a concussion after a high hit from New York’s Jacob Trouba, but they were also called for too many men on the ice when they clearly dazed Jarvis was slow getting back to the bench.

“That kind of summed it all up,” Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “(Martin Necas) jumping over (onto the ice) … I know he didn’t realize Jarvy was toast, so that was a tough blow in this game.”

Chris Kreider made things worse by redirecting a shot by teammate Mika Zibanejad into the net for a 2-0 lead.

That turned out to be enough support for Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin.

The Vezina Trophy finalist stopped 37 of the 39 shots he faced, with the only blemishes coming on a power play goal by Vincent Trocheck at 8:11 of the third period and an even strength tally by Max Domi at the 16:13 mark.

Carolina managed to get only 12 pucks past Shesterkin in the seven games against the Rangers, with top scorers Aho and Andrei Svechnikov combining for only three goals.

“You’ve got to give him credit. He’s a great goalie,” Aho said. “He made some really big-time saves, but then again as a forward, you’ve got to find a way.”

New York had long since put the game away by the time the Hurricanes finally got on board. Ryan Strome scored only seconds after Raanta suffered a leg injury and was replaced by Pyotr Kochetov to give New York a commanding 3-0 lead at 16:19 of the second period.

Kreider and Filip Chytil added third period goals before Andrew Copp provided the coup de grace with an empty netter to end a series that started with great promise for the Hurricanes with two straight wins,but faltered because of the team’s inability to win on the road or close the deal.

“Did we want to get to a Game 7? No,” a somber captain Jordan Staal said, fighting back tears. “We had a great start to the series, but we’ve got to find a way to steal one on the road, which we didn’t. Tonight there were some bounces and everyone wasn’t quite there, including myself.

“And that, unfortunately, ended the season.”