RALEIGH, N.C. – It was a disappointment to say the least.
A 5-2 loss to the New York Rangers dropped the Carolina Hurricanes down a notch in the NHL wildcard playoff chase on Friday.
They bobbed below the cut line again, the result of a game they never took control of nor could catch up to, particularly with another sellout crowd on hand at PNC Arena.
Goals from Brock McGinn and Sebastian Aho, markers that came at times that have normally inspired this team to gain momentum to put together offensive runs late in games, didn’t.
An energetic and exceptional effort from starting goalie Petr Mrazek, 31 saves in total, couldn’t spark enough offense either.
Rangers rookie netminder Igor Shesterkin recorded his eighth win in his last nine starts on 27 saves against a Hurricanes squad that couldn’t stay out of the penalty box.
Five different scorers (Mika Zibanejad, Jesper Fast, Brady Skjei, Artemi Panarin, Ryan Strome) contributed to New York’s offense, including one on the power play.
“We were killin’ penalties the whole third period, it’s a tough way to come back,” Hurricanes captain Jordan Staal said.
“I thought the first period we were okay,” coach Rod Brind’Amour noted.
“Probably deserved to be tied. We had a real good power play – three great looks. It wasn’t a great period, but we were down. It just felt like we were chasin’ the game the whole time and just never really could get to what we wanted to do.”
While both teams traded scoring opportunities throughout most of the opening period, a blocked point shot from Staal eventually led to the game’s first goal.
As the puck rebounded off Zibanejad’s shin pads towards the neutral zone, it gave the Rangers centerman wide open ice to break towards Mrazek’s net with Staal chasing.
Zibanejad’s 27th goal of the season put New York ahead 1-0 at the 16:41 mark, a lead it carried into the first intermission.
McGinn tied it early on in the second period with a well-placed wrist shot above Shesterkin’s trapper-side shoulder at 3:25.
Many then expected the push to come from Carolina.
It never did.
Instead the next three goals were posted by the Rangers, recipients of fortuitous bounces off skates that eluded an unsuspecting Mrazek and playing shorthanded throughout the latter half of the game.
“You gotta focus on the next shift and when bounces do come, and whatever bounces do come, keep mentally tough to keep moving forward,” Staal pointed out.
Wait for it, wait for it
Following Panarin’s power play goal at the 1:10 mark of the third period, Carolina took advantage of one of its four man-advantage opportunities.
Aho cleaned up Shesterkin’s missed pad save, swatting the puck in the net as it slid through the crease.
Trailing 4-2 with over 14 minutes remaining, Carolina had ample time to take advantage of the opportunity to pull even.
However, playing shorthanded didn’t allow for any more offense to be generated.
Strome’s empty-net goal finalized the score and win for the Rangers at 5-2, the fourth and final win that completed the season sweep of the Hurricanes.
It was a losing effort that didn’t allow Carolina to play the way it intended to.
“It just wasn’t there,” Staal concluded.
“As a group, stay out of the box a little better, give ourselves a chance to play 5-on-5. We know our game is good 5-on-5, one of the best in the league if we’re playin’ our way. It’s tough to come back when you’re down.”
Notables: Carolina finished 1-4 on the power play, 39-180 (21.7%) overall…On the PK, the Hurricanes went 3-4, 176-213 (82.6%) overall… McGinn’s goal came in his 300th career NHL/Hurricanes game…Aho’s goal extended his point streak to 11 games.
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