We’ve reached that point of the season where the veterans are sold off, the playoffs are out of sight, and the games have little meaning beyond moral victories and auditioning younger players for next year.
It’s a situation that fans of this team are all too familiar with. Sometimes, that’s when this team comes up with its most encouraging performances. Other times, a team can have nights where even the things they’ve done right all season go horribly awry.
On Thursday night, in a building where the seats are red but many of the people occupying them were wearing blue, both of those things were the case.
The Hurricanes’ penalty kill, which has for good reason been at or near the top of the league for the entirety of this season, had a night where a team that had gone 1 for its last 25 attempts on the power play found a way to score three such goals on them.
It started five minutes in, when Derek Ryan badly cut Kevin Hayes up high. Hayes went off to the room for repairs, leaving a trail of blood in his wake. The Rangers then embarked on a four-minute power play that felt like it would be a decisive sequence early in the game.
That would prove true, as Elias Lindholm was whistled for tripping just 45 seconds into Ryan’s infraction. That set up a full two-minute 5-on-3, which the Rangers were able to capitalize on as Chris Kreider staked his claim to the front of the net and put home a centering pass from Derek Stepan.
The remainder of the penalty to Ryan ended up being negated, as Sebastian Aho utilized a ridiculous move on Brady Skjei to draw a hooking call. The Hurricanes would get an abbreviated power play following the 4-on-4 sequence, but they weren’t able to convert and the Rangers held their one-goal lead.
The momentum would turn on a dime, though as the Rangers’ ongoing struggles in the defensive zone bit them twice in a row.
First, it was a lapse in coverage that allowed Jeff Skinner in behind everybody. Victor Rask got a feed through all of the white jerseys, and Skinner beat Raanta with a head fake and a move to the backhand.
Then it was Valentin Zykov scoring his first career goal in his first career game as he took Marc Staal to task from the boards to the net and then stuffed home a rebound with his body firmly planted in the crease. It was the exact type of goal that the Hurricanes haven’t scored enough of in recent times.
The assists on the play went to Aho and Staal.
In the second period, Carolina’s penalty kill would get even more tests, and they were unable to rise to the challenge.
Mika Zibanejad scored twice on the power play in the period and the Rangers were able to re-claim a 3-2 lead going into the third period.
Carolina took three penalties in the frame, and they were able to kill one of them off.
Special teams would continue to be the driving forces in this game in the third period, as the Hurricanes finally got a power play of their own. They were able to tie the game at three after Aho buried a perfect one-timer from the point following a nifty behind-the-back feed from Teuvo Teravainen. Justin Faulk also picked up an assist on the tying goal.
That tie wouldn’t stand for long, as the Hurricanes got another power play when Zibanejad went off for a slash on Skinner. The ‘Canes would capitalize once again, as Aho tallied once more for his 20th of the season as a 19-year-old rookie. The assists on this goal went to Staal and Elias Lindholm.
The Hurricanes locked things down the rest of the way, and they were able to escape with a 4-3 victory over the playoff-bound Rangers.
In doing so, they sent all the blue jerseys that occupied those red seats home quiet and despondent.
Rank The Performances
Here’s your chance to weigh in on how you think the team performed tonight. Upvote the players you think played well and downvote the ones who didn’t.