Do you like dramatic irony?
Well, if you do, I have a tale for you.
In an arena that had haunted them for over a decade, the Carolina Hurricanes set a franchise record for wins and points in a season. The Canes, thanks to a 4-3 win over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden Tuesday night, also became the Metropolitan Division champions, marking them as back-to-back division* champions.
*They won the Central Division last season when the NHL restructured the league due to COVID-19.
Early on, it was a back and forth affair with the two teams exchanging chances, but the two young, Russian netminders — Pyotr Kochetkov and Igor Shesterkin — between the pipes for each team were the stars of the opening 20 minutes.
Then to start the second period, the Hurricanes were already on the penalty kill. They killed that penalty and then they were immediately penalized again. And then they killed that one off and were penalized again.
So Carolina had to spend nearly six straight minutes shorthanded against a potent Rangers power play. However, the Hurricanes killers and Kochetkov managed to come out unscathed.
That’s when they struck.
With Brady Skjei running the offense, the defenseman passed the puck down to Nino Niederreiter behind the net, who got it back to Skjei in the slot, who then laced it to Vincent Trocheck for the one-timer feed.
And not long after that, the Hurricanes built on their lead as Martin Necas fed Derek Stepan in the slot and the shot ricocheted in off of Jordan Martinook’s net-front bicep.
The Hurricanes were buzzing form there, with the Staal line and Aho line generating heavy possession shifts, one after the other, but Shesterkin held his ground.
But then Seth Jarvis got a little overzealous with the undersized winger attempting to walk the blueline one-handed. The ensuing defensive poke check sprung the Rangers on a breakaway and Chris Kreider beat out Kochetkov’s poke check attempt for his 52nd goal of the year.
It seemed like New York was right back in the game, but a timely goal by Teuvo Teravainen knocked the wind out of their sails.
Skjei knocked a Ranger stretch pass back into the neutral zone where Trocheck one-touched the puck to Teravainen to spring a 2-on-1. Teravainen faked the pass across and then sniped it past Shesterkin to push his team’s lead back to two.
A whirlwind period saw the visiting team sitting pretty after 40 minutes, and another strong start into the third made them feel fairly comfortable.
Playing at 4-on-4 to start the period, Jarvis entered the Rangers zone and tried to go around the Rangers defenseman, but the puck was knocked off of his stick. However, Aho was following the play and hammered home the loose puck.
The Canes kept coming from there, but Shesterkin made some key stops to keep his team treading water.
Then the Rangers got a fortunate bounce as Jacob Trouba let a shot go from the blueline that careened off of two Hurricanes defenders in past Kochetkov.
And that’s when Carolina was pushed back onto its heels. New York started applying the pressure and with the extra attacker on the ice, they broke through again. After Jordan Staal lost a board battle to Adam Fox, the reigning Norris winner hit Alexis Lafreniere on the backdoor to cut the lead to just one.
Despite a few more close calls, the Hurricanes were able to shut it down from there and claim not only the victory, but the Metropolitan Division title as well.
The Hurricanes’ last game of the regular season will be at home at PNC Arena as they host the New Jersey Devils on Thursday at 7 p.m.