RALEIGH, N.C. (AP)The Carolina Hurricanes have the home-ice advantage with the flawless record when playing in front of their rowdy home crowd. The New York Rangers have the resilience proven with a perfect mark in elimination games.
They’re both leaning on those experiences in another Game 7 on Monday night, the second winner-take-all matchup for each in these Stanley Cup playoffs. The winner goes to the Eastern Conference finals to face two-time reigning Cup champion Tampa Bay.
”We feel like we have a recipe for success, but they probably do, too,” Rangers forward Andrew Copp said Sunday, adding: ”It’s just going to be a matter of who can play the closest to a perfect game tomorrow.”
The Hurricanes edged the Rangers for the Metropolitan Division title in a race that came down to the final week of the regular season. That, along with posting the NHL’s third-best record, secured a second round of home-ice advantage at PNC Arena – where they are 7-0 in the longest streak by any team to start a postseason since 2014.
That proved vital in surviving a first-round series against a Boston team that had twice knocked the Canes out of the playoffs in the past three seasons, with Carolina winning a home Game 7 after losing all three road games.
The Hurricanes are back in that position, holding serve at home but losing all three road games against the Rangers.
”I think we’re dwelling on this home and away thing a little bit too much,” Carolina center Vincent Trocheck said. ”I mean, it’s a hockey game. When you get out on the ice, you’re not really focused on whether you’re going to go back to your own bed after the game or if you’re going to go to a hotel.”
Carolina can improve to 7-0 in Game 7s since the former Hartford Whalers relocated to North Carolina in 1997.
The Rangers aren’t fazed by the challenge, even while they’ve managed just one win in six road playoff games. New York clawed back from a 3-1 first-round series deficit against Pittsburgh, including a Game 6 road win, and advanced with a Game 7 home win.
The Rangers have rallied from an 0-2 deficit in this one and forced Game 7 after winning their fourth straight elimination game this postseason with Saturday night’s Game 6.
”I just think from Day One we talked about getting up when you’re down,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said. ”We’ve worked hard. … We’re a young team, we have a lot of fun and they believe in themselves.”
The Rangers led nearly all of Game 1 in Raleigh before falling in overtime. They never led in the next two games in Carolina, with the Hurricanes controlling play and holding the Rangers to 17 shots – matching a season low – in Thursday’s Game 5 as Gallant said his team ”looked tired” and wasn’t ”competitive enough.”
But the Rangers bounced back at Madison Square Garden, scoring a power-play goal for the fourth straight game against the league’s best regular-season penalty kill. Center Mika Zibanejad also scored a goal for the fourth straight game – the longest postseason streak by a Rangers player since 2007 – while Igor Shesterkin was again strong in net.
Those are areas of concern for Carolina entering Game 7. The Hurricanes managed a power-play goal in Game 5 but otherwise are 10 for 94 (10.6%) in 30 games dating to last March.
In addition, Antti Raanta, working as the starter with No. 1 goaltender Frederik Andersen sidelined, had his first true stumble of the playoffs by giving up three goals before being yanked in the second period.
”Listen, it wasn’t all on him,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said. ”He let in a couple he’d like to have back. It’s just getting him ready for Game 7. That’s kind of the mentality.”
The Rangers are in their first road Game 7 since beating Pittsburgh in the second round of the 2014 playoffs, and they’re trying to reach the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 2015.
The Hurricanes are trying to return to the Eastern finals for the second time in four seasons. They made an unexpected run there in 2019 in Brind’Amour’s first season as coach after a nine-year playoff drought.
”You do need to enjoy these moments because this is pretty cool,” said Brind’Amour, who admits getting more nervous as a coach than his playing days. ”It’s pretty special to have an opportunity like this.”
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