The toughest game to win is the last one, and that mantra held true for the Carolina Hurricanes in game three of their best-of-five series with the New York Rangers on Tuesday night in Toronto.
A horrid start could have derailed the Canes, but simply put, it didn’t. A game-stealing performance from James Reimer in his first career series-clinching victory and superstar moments from Sebastian Aho led the way en route to a rousing 4-1 Hurricanes win that swept the Rangers right out of Stanley Cup playoff contention.
The Rangers played with a very clear sense of desperation in the first period. They were hard on puck all over the ice, and they were just as hard on Canes bodies. New York’s aggression in the offensive zone led to some difficult clearing attempts for Carolina, and they capitalized on forcing turnovers and generating great scoring chances.
That’s where Reimer, in his first postseason start since May of 2013 with the Toronto Maple Leafs, came up huge.
Reimer made a number of big saves, none bigger than a stop on Artemi Panarin after the Hart Trophy finalist danced Sami Vatanen out of his skates and roared in on a short breakaway chance. Reimer got his glove on a shot that was destined to find twine and he remained ultra-solid through twenty minutes, stopping all 14 shots he faced.
That changed quickly in period two, though. Chris Kreider flew into the Hurricanes zone and took advantage of a poorly-positioned Sami Vatanen as he broke to the net and beat a helpless Reimer twelve seconds into the period to give the Rangers their first lead of the series.
That marked a real turning point in the game, for obvious reasons. The Canes needed a response and they needed it immediately.
That’s exactly what they got from Teuvo Teravainen just over three minutes later.
The Carolina fourth line, with the d-pairing of Jake Gardiner and Haydn Fleury, put together a long, grueling offensive zone shift and they made smart line changes to bring on the first line. Andrei Svechnikov capped off a good sequence by driving to the front of the net. Aho lifted a stick in the slot, which allowed the puck to go right to a charging Teuvo Teravainen who put a perfect back-hand shot top-shelf on Igor Shesterkin to tie the game at one.
Teuvo Teravainen deposits a gorgeous back-hand shot and ties the game at 1-1. Andrei Svechnikov worked the puck to the front of the net, Sebastian Aho lifted a stick in the slot, and the puck got to Turbo. The Hurricanes quickly tie the game in the second period. pic.twitter.com/x4dYxsCfVr— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) August 5, 2020
That was a big moment for the Hurricanes, who kept mounting momentum as the period went on. After a dominant first period for the Rangers, things started to even out. A power play for both sides didn’t render a goal in the middle portion of the frame, which gave way to some unbelievable fireworks late in the period.
The Rangers were denied on scoring chances time after time by the combination of Reimer and his defenders. The sequence saw Vatanen make a chest save, Slavin lay down on the goal line and Reimer make the save of the postseason.
WOW. James Reimer and company with an unbelievable sequence to keep the Rangers off the board. Sami Vatanen made a save too, Reimer made the unbelievable stick stop at the end. Unreal. pic.twitter.com/XouM1gotrC— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) August 5, 2020
After all of that, the Hurricanes and Rangers were knotted up at a goal apiece through forty minutes. The Canes found themselves a period away from potentially ending this thing - win the period, win the series.
Carolina started that process on a very good note.
The Canes pinned the puck in the offensive zone for long stretches to open the third period, and it netted them a big goal. Rod Brind’Amour shuffled the deck with his forward lines, putting Warren Foegele and Martin Necas on the flanks of Vincent Trocheck. That trio hammered the puck around the Rangers’ zone, leading to a long-range shot from former Ranger Brady Skjei, whose blast got deflected by Foegele in front and beat Shesterkin.
Former Ranger Brady Skjei with a long-range shot and Warren Foegele deflects it past Shesterkin. The Hurricanes have a 2-1 lead in the third period of game three. pic.twitter.com/LfkHCEcnKf— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) August 5, 2020
What happens next deserves an NSFW warning.
A puck bounced to Jacob Trouba in the Rangers’ zone, but he couldn’t handle it as Aho flew in, picked his pocket and proceeded to absolutely undress Tony DeAngelo en route to roofing a backhand shot over the shoulder of Shesterkin to give the Hurricanes a commanding 3-1 lead in the third period.
Sebastian Aho. WOOOOW. Enjoy every angle of this highlight-reel goal from Aho, who strips the puck from Trouba and walks DeAngelo for a goal that puts the Hurricanes up 3-1 on the Rangers in game three. pic.twitter.com/YfGH9VeYVm— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) August 5, 2020
That goal will be on New York’s 2020 postseason tombstone.
Aho scored a short-handed empty-net goal late in the third, for good measure, and the Hurricanes did, indeed, win the period and win the series.
Game three ended with a final score of 4-1. The Hurricanes reversed their regular-season fortunes with the Rangers in convincing fashion, going from 0-4 head-to-head to 3-0.
Aho will go down as the star of the game, but it was a complete team effort and an absolutely marvelous performance from Reimer between the pipes that set the stage for his late heroics.
Reimer stopped 37 shots in game three, including the 12 shots he saw in a Rangers-dominated first period. On Tuesday night, he was the reason why the Canes were the first of the play-in teams to advance to the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
They will now sit and wait for their opponent, but the wait will be well worth it.
The Carolina Hurricanes are moving on.