It was always going to take something memorable for the New York Rangers to go into PNC Arena, where the Carolina Hurricanes had not lost a game this postseason, and come out with a win in Game 7 and a ticket to the Eastern Conference Final.
And that’s exactly what happened.
The Rangers are through to the last two in the East where they’ll face the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning after defeating the Hurricanes in Carolina 6-2 on Monday night in Game 7.
Chris Kreider scored two goals while Igor Shesterkin was superb once again between the pipes, turning away 36 of 28 shots in the victory to continue his stellar postseason run.
In the series against the Hurricanes, Shesterkin allowed just 12 goals on 233 shots.
Both of New York’s series wins have come in Game 7’s — the first a 4-3 overtime thriller over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Though Monday’s winner-take-all matchup didn’t provide nearly as much anxiety.
Having scored just two goals and possessing a 1-for-7 power play in their previous three games of the series in Carolina, the underdog Blueshirts hung two power-play goals up on the Hurricanes in the first period alone.
Defenseman Adam Fox struck just 3:40 into the game when he took a drop pass on the right boards from Alexis Lafreniere and rifled a wrister through traffic over the glove of Antti Raanta to put the Blueshirts ahead.
Carolina’s uphill climb got even steeper when Jacob Trouba laid out Hurricanes forward Seth Jarvis with a borderline hit that caught the head. The shaken-up rookie couldn’t get back to the bench in time — he would not return after exiting — prompting a too-many-men on the ice penalty that opened the door for the other Rangers goal.
Kreider doubled the advantage eight minutes into the night with a signature tip-in right at the doorstep off a pass from Mika Zibanejad for his seventh goal of the playoffs.
The Hurricanes continued throwing what they could at Shesterkin, registering 28 shots in the opening 48 minutes of play, but could not find an answer.
Meanwhile, the Hurricanes lost their second-string goalie in Raanta after an awkward split midway through the frame caused a lower-body injury. He would not return, forcing the hosts to turn to rookie Pytor Kochetkov to see out the rest of Game 7.
After making a circus sliding save on Ryan Strome — and Shesterkin turning away an ensuing Carolina 2-on-1 odd-man rush — New York’s veteran forward exacted quick revenge by slipping a wrister past Kochetkov with just 3:41 left in the second.
Kreider got his second of the night and iced the victory for New York just 3:59 into the third when a rush through desperate Hurricanes saw the Rangers veteran outwait Kochetkov, shift to his backhand from a tough angle, and roof it into the back of the net.
Carolina got one back on the power play when Tony DeAngelo sniped a wrister over the glove of Shesterkin at the 8:11 mark, but Filip Chytil provided an immediate answer just 40 seconds later when he slid a shot in alone under the third-string netminder to restore New York’s four-goal lead.
Max Domi, who scored two goals in the Hurricanes’ Game 7 win over the Boston Bruins last round, picked up a second for Carolina with 3:47 remaining in the game, but Andrew Copp provided an instant empty-netter for the Blueshirts.