Category 5: Hurricanes look to shift pressure onto Rangers

Carolina is down 2-0 in the series

Hurricanes goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov will start Game 3 against the Rangers on Thursday. (Adam Hunger / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — The Hurricanes will look to stay unbeaten on home ice this postseason when they host Thursday’s Game 3 in their first round series against the Rangers. New York had one-goal wins in each of the first two games at Madison Square Garden, including a double-overtime victory on Tuesday in Game 2.

1. After starting Frederik Andersen in goal in each of Carolina’s first seven playoff games, Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour is going to Pyotr Kochetkov for a pivotal Game 3 at home.

“I think Freddie’s played really well, but he’s also played a lot,” Brind’Amour said of the decision to switch goalies. “I think giving him a little breath is the best thing.”

Kochetkov last played April 14 and ended the regular season with four straight wins. Since Valentine’s Day, he’s allowed two or fewer goals in 12 of 15 starts. He was the hard-luck loser on March 12 against the Rangers, stopping 23 of 24 shots in a 1-0 loss to New York and Igor Shesterkin, who posted a 28-save shutout.

“He’s got a different demeanor, that’s obvious,” Brind’Amour said of the differences between Kochetkov and Andersen. “Freddie’s really calm and cool, and Kooch is a little more passionate and wears his emotions on his sleeve. But they’re both pretty good goalies.”

2. Also back in the lineup for Game 3 is Evgeny Kuznetsov, who was scratched in favor of Max Comtois in Game 2. Kuznetsov has two goals and four points in six playoff games but was largely ineffective in Game 1 of the series.

That was especially true on the power play, where the team managed just one shot on goal and four shot attempts in his 4:09 of ice time with the man advantage. The Hurricanes didn’t skate before Thursday’s Game 2, but one has to wonder if Brind’Amour will shuffle his lines to get Kuznetsov into more offensive situations, especially with final change on home ice.

3. Believe it or not, Game 3 will be the first time Peter Laviolette will coach in a postseason game at PNC Arena since Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup final. Laviolette never brought the Hurricanes back to the playoffs after their championship season. He was fired and replaced by Paul Maurice midway through the 2008-09 campaign, when Carolina made its run to the Eastern Conference final, and the Hurricanes then missed the playoffs the next nine years.

Brind’Amour has led Carolina to the postseason six straight seasons since, but he just missed facing his former coach in the playoffs a couple of times.

After parts of five seasons in Philadelphia, Laviolette went on to coach the Predators in 2014.

He was let go in the middle of his sixth season in Nashville in 2020, one year before the Hurricanes played the Predators in the playoffs as one-year COVID-era Central Division foes. Laviolette next took the head job in Washington, two postseasons after the Hurricanes shocked the defending champion Capitals in the first round in 2019 with Todd Rierden behind the bench.

“It’ll be a great atmosphere here, for sure,” Laviolette said after the Rangers’ morning skate. “It’s a loud building and great energy behind their team. So I think you can feed off of that both ways too. It makes a great environment for a hockey game.”

4. Also returning to PNC Arena is Vincent Trocheck, who signed with the Rangers in the summer of 2022 after two-plus seasons in Carolina. Trocheck had a goal and an assist in each of the first two games of the series, including the game-winning double-overtime goal in Game 2 that allowed New York to hold serve at home.

One would think he won’t get a hero’s welcome in Raleigh during Game 3.

“He’s been amazing for us all year and then these playoffs as well,” Rangers center Mika Zibanejad said of Trocheck. “And playing your old team, you want to win. So it’ll be a fun one tonight.”

Trocheck played 14 playoff games at PNC Arena when he was with the Hurricanes, scoring four goals with nine points. That included a pair of goals in the 2022 series against New York that went seven games. Now he returns as the hero of Game 2 with his new team.

“Anytime you lose in double OT it’s never fun, I think regardless of who scores on the other side,” Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin said of it being Trocheck — who he used to share a leaping post-win hug with when they were teammates — being the one to score the Game 2 winner. “I wouldn’t say there’s any extra anger or emotion towards that, it’s just you lose the game. And so that’s never fun.”

5. The pressure is squarely on the Hurricanes in Game 3, but a win Thursday would flip the dynamics of the series completely.

“Whenever you’re down two, it’s not a good spot to be in,” Slavin said. “But we play really well at home and we’ve got a good group, and so we’re not worried about it. … We were on the other side of it when we were playing the Islanders last series. We were up 2-nothing and ended up getting that Game 3 win.

“But had you lost Game 3, I mean, you do feel it from the other side, I think. So it’s about winning tonight.”

If Carolina can get the series to 2-1, New York would then need a Game 4 win to avoid a reverse repeat of what happened two years ago when Carolina won Games 1 and 2 at home (2-1 and 2-0) before losing a tight Game 3 in New York and then dropping Game 4. The Rangers went on to win that series in seven games.

“I had a coach in junior hockey tell me until you lose at home … and we haven’t lost at home,” Carolina forward Jordan Martinook said. “So they they did their job, they won their two at home. Now it’s our turn to do ours, and it starts with tonight. You win your games at home and then it goes to best of three, but we’ll focus on tonight.”