The Rangers had a formula during the regular season that worked: special teams and goaltending.
On Sunday afternoon at the Garden, they went back to it.
The two biggest sequences of the 3-1 win came on the power play and the penalty kill, respectively, with the former accounting for the game’s opening goal after a dismal performance in Carolina.
Chris Kreider, who was stationed at the front of the net when Mika Zibanejad opened the scoring off a cross-ice feed from Artemi Panarin, implied that it took the Rangers a game to begin to figure out how to deal with Carolina’s league-best penalty kill. The problem was, with just 27 seconds of five-on-four play in Game 1, that ended up being the second game — in which the Rangers were disastrous on the man-advantage and gave up a key shorthanded goal.
“I feel like everyone pressures on the kill, especially on initial entries and loose pucks,” Kreider said. “That’s a team that has been probably the best penalty kill in the league all year. Very effective at pressuring.”
Indeed, the Hurricanes’ pressure gave the Rangers fits on Friday in Raleigh, resulting in a series of odd-man rushes the wrong way before Brendan Smith finally converted. On Sunday, though, the Rangers managed to get some puck movement and finally beat Antti Raanta for the first time since early in Game 1.
“We just gotta continue to support each other,” Kreider said. “Have that five-on-five mentality and relieve pressure. [If there’s] a loose puck, a puck on the wall, we know they’re gonna be jumping. So to get set up, we need to work for each other. Need to have options, need to have outs, need to communicate.”
The Rangers did little of note on their other two power-play chances, but coupled with a penalty kill that was a perfect three-for-three, the one goal turned out to be enough.
That kill came up particularly big in the third period when Tyler Motte went to the box for slashing at 13:57. The following two minutes were the best the Rangers had on the penalty kill all afternoon, with Carolina failing to notch a shot on goal.
Earlier in the period, the Rangers had leaned on Igor Shesterkin to kill a penalty. This time — perhaps the only time all afternoon — Shesterkin’s services were not needed.
That was particularly ironic on a day when the Rangers won by falling back on the formula that has gotten them through so many games this season, leaning on their goaltender, who was superlative as usual.
“Killed some penalties, scored a power-play goal,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said. “That’s how you win hockey games in tight games.”
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