Overtime goals are rarely things of beauty.
But Ian Cole can tell his descendants about the artistry of a seeing-eye shot that sent the hometown Carolina Hurricanes to a 2-1 OT victory against the New York Rangers in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Cole, a stay-home defenceman who had just two goals in the regular season, stunned the Rangers when he took a loose puck, his back to the net, turned at the top of the circle and spun a wrist shot through traffic to beat Hart Trophy candidate Igor Shesterkin.
Shesterkin looked helplessly at his defenceman, Ryan Lindgren, who had inadvertently redirected the shot, deflecting it downward, past Shesterkin. The goal, at 3:12 of the first overtime period, was the veteran Cole’s second career playoff goal.
Just like that, the Hurricanes kept their perfect home ice record in these playoffs intact. They won all four home games against Boston in Round 1.
“I was looking to pass it to someone and no one was anywhere dangerous,” Cole said, somewhat sheepishly. “So, I thought, I’ll just throw it on net and see what happens. Hockey is a game of weird bounces and it just happened to go in.
“Not the prettiest but we’ll take it.”
Carolina goaltender Antti Raanta, who continues to fill in brilliantly for the injured Frederik Andersen, made 27 saves for the victory. His best stops came in the first period, when the Rangers threatened to put up a big number.
Otherwise, the two stingiest teams in the NHL, 1-2 in goals allowed in the regular season (Carolina first, New York second) put on a display of tight defence and solid goaltending in this series opener.
It wasn’t until midway in the third period that play started to open up, and then the shooters couldn’t hit the open nets.
At one end, Nino Niederreiter hit the crossbar on a clear cut breakaway, while at the other, young Kaapo Kakko missed a wide open net when he could have put the game away for New York.
That left a little something on the table for Carolina’s best forward, Sebastian Aho. After receiving a nice feed from Seth Jarvis, the Finn broke in alone on Shesterkin, who made the original save but couldn’t stop Aho’s rebound. For the centreman, it was sweet retribution after he hit the crossbar earlier in the period.
So much for the Rangers long-shot scheme of nursing a 1-0 lead to the finish line. Aho’s goal, which came with 2:23 left in the third, was the culmination of a furious late push by the Hurricanes to the delight of a stirred crowd at PNC Arena as overtime loomed.
The Rangers could only shake their head at the missed opportunities to end this one in regulation. Through 40 minutes, they clearly held the advantage in play.
“I thought it was our best game of the year,” said Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant. Asked about his team sitting back in the third period, Gallant felt it was more a case of Carolina pushing hard to get the tying goal.
After a sleepy start, the Hurricanes started to find their legs in the second period and finally generated a few scoring chances. Yet, it was the Rangers who had the best chance in the scoreless second, when Alexis Lafreniere rang a shot off the crossbar in the latter half of the period.
“We’re definitely not on our game,” Hurricanes head coach Rod BrindAmour told ESPN’s Emily Kaplan during the second period. “We’re making bad decisions with the puck and that is complicating everything.”
On Tuesday, BrindAmour told reporters that the extra day’s rest between series didn’t do his team any good. They wanted to keep going after the Game 7 victory over Boston, he said.
His Canes certainly weren’t sharp to start. A huge turnover by defenceman Tony DeAngelo, a former Ranger, led to a Rangers two-on-one, which Filip Chytil finished off nicely after taking the pass from Lafreniere. That gave the visitors the lead at 7:07 of the first period.
Carolina was fortunate New York didn’t find the back of the net twice more in the first 20 minutes. Raanta made a stretch save with his left pad with Chytil all alone in front of the net. Chytil had lots of room if he could have lifted the puck, but was busy one-timing the pass and couldn’t elevate. A few minutes later it was big Ryan Reaves who forced Raanta to make a pad save, before Reaves got another shot on his own rebound.
The Hurricanes knew they probably stole this one, but credited their ability to find their attacking game before it was too late. They rarely left the New York zone in the third period and needed all that time to get the equalizer and ultimately the winner in OT.
“We’ll take the win,” BrindAmour said. “We raised our game and played with more desperation. But give them (the Rangers) credit. They played a really good game. For two periods they were the better team, no question.”
Aho said the Canes were still a confident team, despite getting outplayed through two periods.
“We knew we had to play better,” Aho said. “But it was still a one-shot game.”
The Rangers Kid Line of Lafreniere, Chytil and Kakko gave Carolina fits, but ultimately didn’t convert enough of their chances. Kakko’s empty net miss will cause nightmares back in Gotham.
“We’ve been in this position (before),” Chytil said afterwards. “We just have to keep our heads up. I think we can take a lot of positives from this game – for two and a half periods, we played how we want to play.”
The Rangers outshot the hosts 12-8 in the first period and 28-26 overall. Carolina owned the faceoff circle, with a 59 per cent advantage. New York’s Mika Zibanejad struggled in the dot with just 35 per cent success.
Game 2 is Friday in Raleigh.