Hurricanes’ third period collapse ends their season

The Rangers scored four unanswered goal in the final 13 minutes to win 5-3 and advance to the Eastern Conference final

Hurricanes center Evgeny Kuznetsov and defenseman Jaccob Slavin skate off as the Rangers celebrate in the background following New York’s 5-3 win Thursday in Game 6 of their second round playoff series in Raleigh. (Karl B. DeBlaker / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — The Hurricanes looked like they were forcing a Game 7.

Then Chris Kreider happened.

The Rangers winger scored a natural hat trick in just under nine minutes of play in the third period to turn a two-goal Hurricanes lead into a 5-3 Rangers win that gave New York a 4-2 series victory and ended Carolina’s season on Thursday at PNC Arena.

“Frustrating, upsetting — all the negative things you can think of for that ending,” Hurricanes captain Jordan Staal said.

Hurricanes goaltender Frederik Andersen failed to get a cover on a Mika Zibanejad shot from below the goal line, and Kreider beat Jesperi Kotkaniemi to the puck — lodged between Andersen’s skate and the post — and jammed it in at 6:43 of the third period to cut Carolina’s lead to 3-2.

It staggered the Hurricanes and opened the floodgates for Kreider and the Rangers.

“It definitely hurt,” Andersen said of the momentum-swinging goal. “You don’t want to give them life. I thought I had it covered and wasn’t able to get my glove down on it. A mistake; tough timing for that, and we weren’t able to bounce back this time.”

Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour conceded that the goal tipped the game.

“Obviously, that goal was a tough one,” he said. “It just can’t happen. We know that. You can’t give it to them like that goal, and I thought we gave them a couple. And that’s really not good. … Once the one goal went in, they got life.”

With just over nine minutes left in the game, Staal was called for cross-checking Zibanejad to give New York a power play. The Rangers hadn’t dented Carolina’s penalty kill since Game 2, but Kreider redirected in an Artemi Panarin shot to tie the score at 11:54

“I didn’t love it, Staal said of the penalty call. “He was doing that all series long, and he did it about four times that game.”

Then Kreider finished the job, gaining position on Dmitry Orlov at the left post and knocking in a wraparound pass by Ryan Lindgren to give the Rangers the lead at 15:41.

Carolina tried to get the equalizer with Andersen on the bench for an extra attacker — its best chance was an Andrei Svechnikov shot alone in the slot — but Barclay Goodrow scored into the empty net with 49 seconds remaining to send the Rangers to the Eastern Conference final.

“Even when we were down one, we get right in front all alone,” Brind’Amour said of the Svechnikov chance, the last of several missed opportunities in the final period.

That included a breakaway by Sebastian Aho — who had scored near the midway point of the second period to give Carolina its 3-1 lead — and a short-side shot by Jake Guentzel that hit the post and rattled off the arm of Igor Shesterkin (33 saves) but didn’t find its way into the net.

“We had two posts there, had a breakaway, plenty of looks,” Aho said. “Obviously, we couldn’t score there.”

The focus will now shift to what’s next for the Hurricanes, who have won at least one playoff round in each of the last six seasons but failed to advance past the Eastern Conference final since winning the Stanley Cup in 2006, back when their current coach was their Selke Trophy-winning captain.

Three of the defensemen who played in Game 5 will be free agents this summer — Brady Skjei, Jalen Chatfield and Tony DeAngelo — as will injured Brett Pesce. So will four forwards Guentzel, Teuvo Teravainen, Jordan Martinook and Stefan Noesen — and a handful of players — most notably Seth Jarvis, Martin Necas and Jack Drury — need new deals as restricted free agents.

“Yeah, it sucks,” Aho said. “It’s a special group. Hopefully we’ll stay the same as possible, but that’s the sh–ty part of this. …  I thought we had everything that we needed to get over the hump.”

Outside of Jarvis, who has become a cornerstone player, none are guaranteed to return.

“It’s a business,” Brind’Amour said. “I’d love to roll this back with these guys, but who knows how that’s all gonna shake out.”

The only position that seems solidified is the one that has been most volatile. Andersen, who allowed 16 goals in five starts in the series, has a year remaining on his deal but has had difficulty staying in the lineup and done nothing to shed his label as a goalie who can’t be relied on in big moments.

Pyotr Kochetkov, the fiery Russian who started just one playoff game after starting 40 in the regular season, is the logical choice to be the team’s No. 1 goalie, but one can’t help but wonder why, if the team has belief in him, he was used so sparingly in the postseason.

Those answers will come in time. For now, the Hurricanes will again be forced to wonder what could have been.

For 40 minutes, the series looked destined for a Game 7.

In a first period during which the Hurricanes outshot the Rangers 8-3 but were at a 24-17 shot attempt disadvantage, Carolina got an end-of-period goal to take a 1-0 lead.

After Necas’ forecheck forced Lindgren to push the puck up the boards, Orlov pinched to keep it in. Orlov sent the puck back around the boards to the back of the net, where Martinook shielded the puck from Adam Fox.

Martinook quickly centered it to a crashing Necas, who roofed the puck over Shesterkin’s glove for the game’s first goal at 18:38 of the first period.

The Hurricanes extended their lead in the second period.

After the first power play of the game, for the Rangers, was negated when Kreider cross-checked Jarvis to the ice on a shorthanded 2-on-1, Carolina got an abbreviated power play of its own.

The Hurricanes converted, with Aho getting a piece of a Svechnikov shot toward the net, allowing Jarvis to locate and sweep in the loose puck to give the Hurricanes a 2-0 lead at 4:38 of the middle frame.

The Rangers countered 51 seconds later when Andersen (19 saves) lost his balance and Vincent Trocheck got a piece of a Panarin point shot to halve the lead to 2-1.

But Carolina reestablished its two-goal lead after Svechnikov turned a prolonged stint in the Hurricanes’ zone into a rush chance the other way.

Svechnikov cleared the puck up the boards to Aho, who chose to shoot and beat Shesterkin’s glove for a 3-1 lead just before the midway point of regulation.

Kreider then leaked his first goal past Andersen, and the Hurricanes never recovered.

“We had one goal in mind, go all the way and be the best team, and didn’t get there,” Aho said. “So not good enough.”