The second round series between the Rangers and the Hurricanes continues in New York City with Sunday’s Game 3 matinee at Madison Square Garden.
1. The Hurricanes, 6-3 so far in the postseason, are still looking for their first road win. Carolina is a perfect 6-0 at PNC Arena but lost all three games at Boston’s TD Garden in Round 1.
They’ll try to change that Sunday in Game 3 against the Rangers.
“I think we learned a lot in that first series in Boston,” defenseman Brady Skjei said Saturday. “(I don’t know if we) took it for granted, but you’ve got a team on the ropes like this you want to really play your best hockey and go in there, and getting a couple wins would be great.”
MSG used to be a house of horrors for the Hurricanes, even going back to Rod Brind’Amour’s playing days. The coach attributed that to New York’s X-factor, Henrik Lundqvist, and the Rangers have another all-world goalie in Shesterkin.
The Hurricanes, however, won both games at MSG this year, helping them clinch the Metropolitan Division down the stretch — wins Brind’Amour called “irrelevant” to what might happen Sunday and Tuesday.
Skjei said the keys will be staying out of the penalty box and sticking to the game plan.
“We just need to go in there and play like any other game, home or away,” he said. “Just play our style and we should be all right.”
Brind’Amour’s just hoping for more of the same.
“We don’t need to change anything,” he said. “They’re not gonna change. I mean, why would you?”
2. The first two games of the Rangers series have been decided more by mistakes than lucky bounces or spectacular individual efforts.
Tony DeAngelo’s turnover in Game 1 led to the odd-man rush that created New York’s only goal of the series so far, while the Rangers’ defense broke down on Sebastian Aho’s game-tying goal.
In Game 2, New York allowed several shorthanded chances, and Aho again made them pay with a perfect feed to Brendan Smith for the game-winning goal.
Only Ian Cole’s overtime winner in Game 1 — a seemingly harmless shot that hit the stick of Rangers defenseman Ryan Lindgren and got past Igor Shesterkin — had some puck luck to it.
So it’s fair to assume that limiting mistakes could be the difference in Game 3 — especially in a surprisingly low-scoring series so far that the Hurricanes’ coach admitted he thought would be “more wide open.”
“I didn’t anticipate it being like this, to be honest with you,” Brind’Amour said. “But sometimes you force it and you get the break, sometimes you don’t. But I think at the end of the day, it’s both teams trying to stick to what they believe in.”
The series could change and become more wide open with the Rangers having the last change at home. Certainly Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider and Frank Vatrano are looking forward to getting away from the suffocating Jordan Staal line that was tethered to them in Games 1 and 2.
“I don’t know how the games are gonna go up there,” Brind’Amour said. “They might be more of the same or it might be totally different. I’m not sure, but I think you just have to be able to adapt to the way the game has gone.”
3. You can see the bumps, bruises and worse accumulating around the four remaining playoff series. Colorado defenseman Sam Girard was knocked out for the rest of the postseason with a broken sternum after a big hit Saturday from St. Louis’ Pavel Buchnevich, and Blues goalie Jordan Binnington left the same game after a collision in goal.
The Hurricanes have been fortunate to not suffer anything serious yet. Jordan Martinook is inching toward being ready — Brind’Amour said he’d be able to play if needed but was not 100% — and Frederik Andersen’s slow crawl toward rejoining the team perhaps took a step forward when he joined the team for the trip to New York.
The Rangers’ defense has been slowed a bit by an injury to Lindgren, who missed three games in the first round against Pittsburgh and will be battling the lower-body injury “right until the end of the playoffs,” according to New York coach Gerard Gallant.
Carolina has its share of mild maladies as well. Players are “getting treatment” for various aches and pains, and some — like Skjei — have even skipped some practices to rest up.
“I’m good. I feel healthy,” Skjei said Saturday. “The playoffs bring that physical element, which I enjoy. I think that’s the best part about hockey. And this style of hockey is awesome. Everyone’s playing desperate and playing physical, making big blocks. So no, I feel good. Gotta keep moving forward.”
4. There have been no power play goals in the Hurricanes’ last three games — none for, none against. The last time that happened in the playoffs for Carolina was 2019 when neither the Hurricanes nor the Capitals scored on the power play in Games 6 and 7 of the first round, and then the same happened in Game 1 of Round 2 against the Islanders.
That was part of a seven-game power play drought for the Hurricanes, one that started in Game 4 against the Caps and finally ended in Game 4 against the Isles when Aho scored in the first period.
The Hurricanes’ power play is at 12.5% this postseason, scoring five times on 40 opportunities. That’s the same conversion rate as the Flames and not as bad as the Panthers, who have yet to score on 25 chances this postseason.
Brind’Amour didn’t seem too concerned with his power play.
“You guys all write the numbers, but that’s the last thing I look at,” he said,” because you might be crappy and get a power play goal. That doesn’t matter. It’s are you doing what you want to do? Are you creating looks? Are you getting zone time?
“Sometimes it doesn’t go. I thought it’s been pretty good the last four or five games, actually. … We came close a few times (Friday) on it. Obviously, it’s a big part of the game.”
5. Gallant has continued to wear a brave face despite being down 2-0 in the series.
“That was two good games in a row,” he said Saturday. “We came away 0-2, but I thought we played good hockey.”
That’s different than the tune the Bruins were singing in Round 1 when they lost Games 1 and 2 and seemed shocked to be down 2-0.
Boston, as we know, bounced back. The Rangers will try to do the same starting Sunday.
“We just gotta make sure we take care of our home ice now,” Gallant added Saturday. “We gotta make sure we win tomorrow. One game at a time and then we’ll worry about Game 4, but they held court. It’s a long series. Like I said, we’ve been here, done that before.”