The New York Rangers are looking to make a deep playoff run this year after being eliminated in the first round last season. They made a big splash at the National Hockey League (NHL) trade deadline to acquire elite winger, Marty St. Louis, to boost their offense and help achieve that goal. On Friday night, that trade paid dividends. The New York Rangers used a four goal third period to complete a comeback over the Carolina Hurricanes, with St. Louis earning the primary assist on the gamewinner.
The first period was one controlled by the Rangers from the opening faceoff. In the first four minutes of the game, the NHL war room was called upon twice to review New York scoring chances. Both times, the puck came close to crossing over the Carolina goalline, but in both instances, it was determined that the puck never fully crossed. Rather than deflate the team, the missed opportunities seemed to give the Rangers life. Shortly after the second review, Hurricanes forward Jordan Staal would hook down Dan Carcillo, giving New York the first of two powerplay opportunities in the first period. However, Hurricanes goaltender Anton Khudobin would stand strong in net, denying all opportunities he faced. Staal would redeem himself for the penalty late in the period, when he would fire a puck past Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist for his twelfth goal of the year. Despite outshooting the opponent 15-7, and greatly controlling the play, the New York Rangers ended the first period down a goal.
Carolina would get their first powerplay of the game early in the second period, after Carl Hagelin was penalized for holding shifty star forward, Jeff Skinner. That opportunity would be enhanced when Brian Boyle would get his elbow high against John-Michael Liles. This would give the Hurricanes a 5-on-3 powerplay and a chance to get a very big monkey off their back. The Hurricanes have one of the worst powerplay percentages in the league and have not scored a powerplay goal since February 7. The lack of success on the powerplay has cost the Hurricanes many games, games that could have been the difference between making the playoffs and playing golf in the spring. When asked in a recent interview what the Hurricanes needed on the powerplay, Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford quipped “a goal” followed by “and then more goals.” Unfortunately for Rutherford and the Hurricanes, tonight’s game was no different from usual, as a combination of a hesitant Carolina powerplay and an aggressive Rangers penalty kill prevented any real scoring chances against Lundqvist.
The story of the second period was the play of Khudobin. The Russian goaltender made stellar save after save in the second, keeping the tentative lead safe for the Hurricanes and frustrating Ranger shooters all night. Khudobin recently signed a new two-year contract extension, earning him 4.5 million by the end of the deal. He started the season as the backup goaltender, but a combination of injuries to Cam Ward and dominating play by Khudobin allowed the young goaltender to steal the starting job for this season and possibly beyond. The second period ended the same as the first, a 1-0 lead for the Hurricanes, despite the 26 to 13 shot disadvantage.
The third period started out with pressure from the Hurricanes, the first instance of any real offensive zone time the entire game. Diminutive forward Nathan Gerbe pressured the seemingly unprepared Ranger defenders, forcing turnovers and creating a prime scoring chance against Lundqvist. Lundqvist would fight off the initial shot and the rebound generated from it. The Hurricanes would catch a break just minutes later, after the puck bounced over Khudobin and appeared to land in the net. But another review in the NHL war room showed that the puck hit the goalpost and landed just outside the goalline, where Khudobin’s pad would knock the puck away. Mats Zuccarello would be caught holding the stick of Gerbe shortly after, giving Carolina their fourth powerplay of the game. The powerplay would change the game, but for the disadvantaged team. Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh would jump into the play and score a shorthanded goal, tying the game and extending the woes of the Hurricanes powerplay. McDonagh’s shorthanded tally was the fourth shorthanded goal allowed by the Hurricanes in their past five games.
The game went back and forth for a while, until a miscue by the Rangers defensemen allowed a breakaway for Jeff Skinner, who broke into alone on Henrik Lundqvist. Anton Stralman got his stick high on the hands of Skinner, preventing a scoring chance and forcing the referee to call a penalty shot. Skinner was denied on the previous two penalty shot chances in his career, but managed to catch Lundqvist guessing Friday night, beating the Swedish goaltender and breaking the tie. It would not remain that way for long, as Rick Nash scored his twentieth of the season after firing the puck at net from along the boards and finding a way past Khudobin.
The Rangers would earn their victory with under five minutes left in the game. Delay of game penalties to Ron Hainsey and Brett Bellemore would give New York a 5-on-3 powerplay, which they would convert on. Marty St. Louis would make a seeing eye pass through the legs of a Hurricanes defenseman, finding Derek Stepan wide open at the side of the net. Carl Hagelin would add an empty net goal to end the scoring for the game and likely end the playoff hopes of the Carolina Hurricanes. Down a goal entering the final period, the Rangers used their dangerous offensive players complete the comeback over the Carolina Hurricanes and win the game, 4-2.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner
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