Connect with us


Lazerus: Rangers prove their championship status after flirting with infamy



Lazerus: Rangers prove their championship status after flirting with infamy

RALEIGH, N.C. – Evgeny Kuznetsov, in his inimitable, mischievous way, promised “hell” for the New York Rangers if they had to come back to North Carolina for a Game 6 in this increasingly indescribable second-round series.

Oh, but this wasn’t hell. Not even with a ‘raise hell’ theme for the evening. Not even when AC/DC’s “Hells Bells” blare before the puck drops. Not even with Carolina’s infamously loud fans reaching new heights as the Hurricanes took a two-goal lead into the third period at PNC Arena. This was nothing.

No, hell is what would have followed a potential Game 7 if the Rangers had never pulled out of this downward spiral in time to save this series. Hell would have lived with the utter failure of losing in the second round after winning the first seven games of the playoffs. It would have been the shame of being the fifth team in Stanley Cup playoff history to take a 3-0 series lead. Hell would have tried to sleep while endlessly reliving Jordan Martinook’s unique, spectacular save in the second period of Game 6, when he cleared Ryan Lindgren’s shot from his belly off the goal line after it had already passed through Frederik Andersen’s legs defeated.

Hell would always have known that they let a golden opportunity to win the Rangers’ second Stanley Cup in 84 years slip through their fingers, wasting one of the best seasons in franchise history.

“I was just scared when I thought about that,” Artemi Panarin said.


How Rangers rallied to shut down Hurricanes: 5 tips

Panarin can admit that now. Now that the Rangers have proven their mettle. Now Chris Kreider has cemented himself in Rangers lore alongside the likes of Matteau and Messier with a natural hat trick to turn a 3-1 third period deficit into a 5-3 win in Game 6 for a silenced shocked Carolina crowd. Now the Rangers’ next game at Madison Square Garden will be against the Florida Panthers or the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals instead of in a winner-take-all Game 7 against the never-say-die Hurricanes .

Postgame locker rooms in the NHL are never louder after wins in series that don’t involve the Stanley Cup itself. The players are too tired and there is still too much work to do. Save the champagne, plastic wrap and ski goggles for the end of June. So after this event there wasn’t much celebration in the cramped visiting area of ​​the PNC Arena. But there was a palpable sense of relief knowing the Rangers were only flirting with disgrace, rather than coming to terms with it.

“To be honest, I felt a little nervous on the bench when we were down a few goals,” said Panarin, who at times seems unable to fight the usual wall of nonchalant bravado that most professional athletes indulge. “And still in the third period we were behind. I was actually nervous. But we did it – thank God.”

Funny how quickly things can change.

The Rangers were dead in the water, down 3-1 and handling the puck like a hand grenade, missing the net time and time again. Then Carolina goalie Frederik Andersen lost a puck from Mika Zibanejad in his skates and Kreider knocked it in.

go deeper


After the Rangers victory, another test awaits in the Eastern Conference finals

The Rangers’ power play was lifeless, after nine straight chances without a goal and very few real chances. Then Kreider tapped in a rising Panarin shot and the game was tied.

The match seemed destined for extra time as both teams battened down the hatches. Then Kreider capped off his hat trick and it was the Hurricanes who were left behind.

Nine minutes. Nine minutes before a 3-1 deficit turns into a 4-3 lead, Kreider goes from franchise pillar to franchise legend, making a Rangers boost one day an all-time Rangers gut feeling, for an all-time Rangers gut feeling. Time Hurricanes return and become an all-time what-if.

“They’re a great team,” said Barclay Goodrow, who finally eased the tension with a 43-yard empty-netter with 48.1 seconds left. “It’s not like we’re up 3-0 and then they turn around and stop. They are a very good team and we knew they would fight back. We may have had a disappointment in the last game, but I think we recovered throughout the season, if that happened, and came back stronger the next game.”

Doing it in the regular season is one thing. Doing it in the late season is something completely different. And now the Rangers know what they are capable of. New York’s top two lines could have been on milk cartons over the last few games. In Game 6, they combined for four goals and six assists in the last 35 minutes. Shesterkin found his all-world form just as Kreider did, denying Carolina captain Jordan Staal from close range shortly before Kreider’s equalizer on the power play, then uncontrollably stoning Andrei Svechnikov from the low slot with 2:39 left as Andersen was pulled. The Rangers were tested for the first time – really tested – and they succeeded.

The Rangers would never go 16-0; that simply doesn’t happen in the NHL. It is better this way. Championship teams are formed in the fires of frustration and futility. Championship teams find a way.

On the other side of the handshake line was a team still searching for that path. For the fourth straight season, the Hurricanes looked like a legitimate contender. For the fourth straight season, their playoff run ended without a win after the second round. There were also the usual culprits. For all their strengths – the ruthless forecheck that wreaks havoc in the attacking zone, the Rod Brind’Amour-esque work ethic that leads to miraculous plays like Martinook’s save, the deep back end that allows them to control the tempo so well – the Hurricanes still didn’t get enough goals from above and still didn’t get enough saves from goal. Jake Guentzel, their big addition at the trade deadline, the long-sought sniper, was absolutely great in his short time in Carolina, but had no goals and just one assist in the last three games. Sebastian Aho scored a big goal off a feed from Andrei Svechnikov to make it 3-1 midway through the second, but that dynamic top line still finished the postseason after being outscored 5-4 in five-a-side five.

And then there’s Andersen. Playoff Freddie (technically an unfair nickname, but Late In A Series Freddie doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue) reared its ugly head again, falling to 5-8 when eliminated (including wins in Games 4 and 5). He made just 19 saves on 23 shots, with his save percentage in elimination games dropping to a paltry .897. He’s 0-4 with an .856 save percentage in Game 7s, so even if the Rangers hadn’t pulled this one out of their Broadway hat, Carolina would have had a lot to overcome on Saturday night.

It’s a familiar refrain and a familiar pain.

“This is a tough way to end a very good year,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “These guys played all year round. But this is what you’re going to remember. That’s the hardest part.”

go deeper


Bruins-Panthers is an all-time hate-watch series that I hope never ends

Now the Rangers get a few days off, and they can sit back and watch the Bruins and Panthers beat each other up for one more game (preferably two). All that tension weighing on them since dropping Game 4 has now been released, but will come back with a vengeance the next time the puck drops. All that work and all that sweat and all that energy that went into it, and they’re only half way there. That’s what playoff hockey is – a brutal, painful, excruciating mental and physical grind, beautiful but brutal at the same time.

A kind of hell, you might say.

But one that Rangers now know they can handle. One that they now know they can thrive in.

“We just tried not to get frustrated,” Panarin said. “Those are the play-offs. It’s up and down every time. It’s hard to do sometimes. But we did it.”

(Top photo: Grant Halverson/Getty Images)