Cole, Aho lead Hurricanes to Game 1 comeback over Rangers

Aho tied the score 1-1 with 2:23 left in regulation before Cole won it early in OT

Hurricanes defenseman Ian Cole celebrates his overtime goal against the Rangers in Carolina's 2-1 win Wednesday in Game 1 of their second-round playoff series in Raleigh. (Karl B. DeBlaker / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — Ian Cole scored the second playoff goal of his career to give the Carolina Hurricanes an improbable 2-1 overtime win over the New York Rangers in the first game of their second-round series on Wednesday at PNC Arena.

For two periods, the Hurricanes looked sluggish and out of sync as the Rangers kept Carolina’s offense in check. Despite outplaying Carolina, New York was only able to build a 1-0 lead, on a first-period goal by Filip Chytil.

“The first period, we were just not there,” said Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour.

The Hurricanes had yet to get off a shot attempt when Chytil sent the puck past goalie Antti Raanta.

“They had a couple good looks and obviously, they scored,” Raanta said. “You were just trying to do whatever you can to keep the puck out, and maybe get a little bit luck here and there. You take that.”

“He kept us in that game early,” Cole said of the Carolina keeper, “and unfortunately often.”

The Canes were outshot 12-8 in the first period as Carolina trailed after one for the first time in this postseason. The Hurricanes were outshot again in the second period, by an 11-6 margin.

“We definitely knew that we weren’t playing our best game,” said Sebastian Aho. “We’ve got to play way better, obviously.”

“We pride ourselves on playing a direct north game,” Cole said. “We did not get that to the level we wanted to. We were not happy with the first two periods.”

It was time to make some changes.

The message in the locker room before the third period was to get back to what the Canes have been doing all season.

“That wasn’t good enough,” Cole said of the team’s locker room conclusion. “We didn’t get to where we wanted to be. How do we fix it? We had a lot of desperation, which is the right mindset.”

“We had a pretty confident locker room,” said Aho. “We knew it was a one-goal game. It wasn’t like 4-0. We were right there. We knew it would take one shot to tie the game.”

Brind’Amour mixed up the second and third lines to try to give the offense a spark, and it burned brightly to start the period. The Hurricanes had seven shots in the first five minutes, topping their shot total for the entire second period.

“I think it was necessary to change something up there,” Aho said. “It gives you that little extra step. When the coaches change lines, you know you’ve got to be better. Usually there’s a reason why they mix the lines.”

Rangers goalkeeper Igor Shesterkin was able to stop each of the shots in the Hurricanes early flurry. Then, he was able to get a little luck on his side.

Late in the period, Nino Niederreiter got the puck on a breakaway and fired it past Shesterkin. The puck bounced off the crossbar, however, keeping the Hurricanes scoreless.

A short time later, Aho had a breakaway and also saw it bounce off the crossbar

“A goalie’s best friend,” said Raanta, who saw both shots from the other end of the ice. “It almost felt like we’re not going to get it in today.”

“Maybe we’re getting what we deserve here,” Brind’Amour recalled thinking. “But I liked the fact that we just kept coming. We threw everything at them.”

Aho took encouragement from the tough breaks, however.

“That’s sometimes how it goes,” he said. “We’re still down one goal. We knew we were right there. We’ve just got to get one.”

With 2:23 left to play, and Raanta checking to see when he’ll be summoned to the bench for a desperation empty net offense, Aho took a pass from Seth Jarvis in front of the goal. His first attempt was blocked by Shesterkin’s left pad, but Aho was able to corral the rebound and push it into the corner as he went past the net.

“Fishy (Aho) made a nice play to the end,” Raanta said. “He just stayed with it.”

The game went to overtime, and Raanta knew the end was near.

“When it started, you got the feeling it’s not going to take long,” he said. “It felt like the game was starting to open up a little bit more. Both teams are trying to win.”

After a missed shot attempt, Cole got the puck near the right face-off circle. He skated away from the goal, looking to make something happen.

“It bounced right to me,” he said. “I was looking to pass to someone, but no one was anywhere dangerous.”

Cole decided he was the most dangerous Hurricane available at the time.

“I guess I’ll just throw it on net and see what happens,” he said. “Hockey is a game of weird bounces. I’ll take it.”

The end came 3:28 into the extra period and put the Hurricanes up on the Rangers in the best-of-seven conference semifinal.

Brind’Amour knew that his team got away with stealing a win.

“I’ve seen it plenty of times, where we’re the better team and walk away saying, ‘What just happened?’” he said. “It feels pretty good to be on this side. … We’re not going to get away with that — not playing for two periods and expecting to win a game.”