Hurricanes torture Rangers with suffocating forecheck, defence in Game 2 win

Brendan Smith scored the game-winning goal late in the second period as the Carolina Hurricanes defeated the New York Rangers 2-0 in Game 2 of their Stanley Cup Playoff series.

This wasn’t a game; it was a torture session; a methodical, meticulous dismantling of a team’s spirit, a suffocation that left the New York Rangers practically on life support in their series with the Carolina Hurricanes.

We know, it’s only 2-0. We know, the Rangers have yet to open Madison Square Garden to host the Hurricanes in this second round. We know, they have been close on the scoresheet in both games. And yes, we even know they have more to give.

But it won’t be nearly enough if Carolina replicates Friday’s performance come Sunday on Broadway. This was the most dominant 2-0 win we’ve seen since the New Jersey Devils were regularly crushing dreams—and offences—in the 1990s.

But these guys do it different than those guys—with a five-man forecheck that sucks all the oxygen out of the game.

The Hurricanes established it on the very first shift of Friday’s contest, with the third pairing of Ian Cole and Brendan Smith locking down the wings and the fourth line of Max Domi, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Steven Lorentz throwing a bag over the Rangers’ defence. Cole and top Carolina defenceman Jaccob Slavin were on their way up into the play when Sebastian Aho’s line, with Teuvo Teravainen and Seth Jarvis, tied it shut with an empty-net goal at 19:58 of the third period.

In between, Carolina won 56 per cent of the faceoffs and virtually all the one-on-one battles. They had 22 shots to New York’s 21, 31 hits to New York’s 22, blocked nine more shots than the Rangers, and they put on a total clinic shorthanded.

It led to the first goal of the game—a 2-on-1 rush Aho started and Smith finished—and that was just one of several chances the Hurricanes created while down a man.

Up a man, or even two at one point in the second period, they pressured the Rangers defence and goaltender Igor Shesterkin to gain further momentum. They carried then carried that momentum into the third period, and it’s hard not to feel like they’re not taking it with them to New York.

“We came back last game, and today we defended really well in the third,” Aho told reporters at PNC Arena afterwards. “We didn’t give much out there.”

They didn’t give the Rangers a single thing.

Chris Kreider, who scored 52 goals this season, was held to zero shots on net. Ditto for Artemi Panarin, who scored the winning goal for New York in Game 7 of the first-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Alexis Lafrèniere got his first with less than three minutes remaining in the game, and that was one more than Andrew Copp had.

The entire Rangers team was held to zero shot attempts for a 10-minute span that covered the end of the first period and the beginning of the second. They couldn’t find a way to the inside of the ice even when they could direct a shot towards Carolina’s net.

Can New York play better? Of course.

But the Hurricanes are the reason they didn’t fare well enough on Friday, and the Hurricanes appear prepared to continue being the reason.

It’s what they did to teams all season en route to building the NHL’s third-best record at 54-20-8, and Friday’s performance was a galvanizing one as they attempt to push forward in the playoffs.

“I think if we just stick to our style, it’s eventually going to wear on teams and we’re going to find a way to win the game,” said Smith. “(Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour) Roddy calls it ‘the Stress Game.’”

It looked like the movie Misery, with Kathy Bates taking a sledgehammer to James Caan’s bound ankles.

And when the Hurricanes broke down—which was almost never—Antti Raanta was there, subtracting from his impeccable goals-against average, which now stands at a minuscule 1.83 through eight appearances.

The 33-year-old entered the playoffs as the de facto starter, filling in for Frederik Andersen, who suffered an injury late in the regular season. He missed some of the first-round series against the Boston Bruins with an injury but has been practically unbeatable in two games versus the Rangers.

“It’s great to see,” said Aho. “Team gets a lot of momentum and confidence in their own play when you see your goalie playing that level, and he’s been unbelievable.”

If you were just looking at the score and missed the game, you’d have thought the Hurricanes were just ordinary despite home-ice advantage against a lower-ranked Rangers team.

They were that for the first two periods of this series and were a Kappo Kakko missed net away from a split heading to New York.

But the Hurricanes have held the hammer since and are now but two strikes away from punching their tickets to the Stanley Cup semifinal.

Game 3 is set for 3:30 p.m. ET, Sunday on Sportsnet.

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