After being spoiled with five Game 7s in Round 1 of these playoffs, we get one in Round 2 with the Carolina Hurricanes hosting the New York Rangers Monday night. You can watch in Sportsnet at 8:00 p.m. ET.
How will this go? Well, there are two ways to look at it.
First, there’s a pattern to what the Carolina Hurricanes are doing: Win at home, look sloppy and lose on the road. Carolina has yet to win in six tries on the road in these playoffs, but also haven’t lost at home yet. After another road loss in Game 6 at MSG, where they looked out of sync, Carolina once again returns to PNC Arena looking to close out a series. Judging by the way things have gone so far, their Game 6 result likely holds no bearing on what will take place on Monday.
The Rangers will be the underdogs of course, and given how much better Carolina has been at home it doesn’t seem likely the Game 6 momentum New York built up will carry over here.
But elimination games are different and bring out new kinds of pressure that even other playoff games don’t. And this is where the Rangers have excelled so far this post-season. They won three elimination games in a row against Pittsburgh after falling behind 3-1 in that series, and won their fourth on Saturday. Can they make it five in a row and move on to the Eastern Conference Final?
“You kinda enjoy it, but it depends how the game’s going maybe,” Brind’Amour said about looking forward to a Game 7. “You do need to enjoy these moments because this is pretty cool, pretty special.”
Here’s what to watch for…
What will win out: Carolina’s home record, or New York’s elimination game record?
It’s the ultimate question coming in. Carolina’s home/road splits have been a defining aspect of their path here, as has New York’s unflinching approach to their four elimination games so far.
The Canes’ two-faced numbers are as staggering as inexplicable. At home, they average 3.57 goals per game, and allow an average of just 1.14 against. That’s what you’d expect from a division champ and a Cup hopeful looking to jump over a hurdle this spring. And the way they started against Boston last round, with back-to-back wins in Games 1 and 2 by a combined 10-3 score, the Canes looked like they would plow through one opponent…but then they hit the road.
Away from PNC Arena these playoffs the Hurricanes average just 1.67 goals for and allow an average of 4.33 goals against. It’s a curious development for a team whose 25 regular season road wins were tied for tops in the league. So while Saturday’s 5-2 loss at MSG was concerning for Carolina’s inconsistent play and the results they got in net, there’s every indication they’ll be a much different team back home on Monday.
The Rangers have played the Hurricanes much tighter in PNC Arena than did Boston, with one loss in OT and a couple of two-goal losses, one of which included an empty-netter. More importantly for the Rangers is that in these playoffs they have already faced elimination four times and won each of those games by at least two goals.
Something has to give tonight.
How will the wildly different goalie situations play out?
Game 6 was another reminder of how wide the gulf is between Carolina and New York with their goalie situations right now, and how important of a factor that can be in the playoffs.
After a monster breakaway save by Igor Shesterkin at one end in Game 6, Antti Raanta allowed a soft goal at his end seconds later to break Carolina’s momentum. The Rangers scored another squeaker a little later, and then chased Raanta completely with a 3-0 lead shortly into the second frame.
Here we have a situation where the Rangers have a Vezina Trophy favourite at one end, someone with one of the top Goals Saved Above Expected totals of these playoffs behind something of a leaky team defence. And in Carolina’s net is backup Raanta, who has filled in admirably for the injured Frederik Andersen to this point. Andersen himself was among the top goalies in the league this season, and you have to wonder how much of a difference he’d play in a series and a moment like this.
“We’d love to have had him. That’s kind of why we got him for these moments, but injuries happen,” Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “Raants has been phenomenal so we’ve been fortunate that way. Every team deals with injuries. Obviously we’re dealing with one.”
Even though Andersen has been spotted skating again he’s not going to walk through that Game 7 door, so the task again will fall to Raanta.
And, really, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Raanta deserves piles of credit for what he’s done in these playoffs. In Game 7 of last round against Boston, Raanta stopped 27 of the 29 shots he faced, but did allow one goal in the final seconds that gave the Bruins some hope in a one-goal game.
Carolina scored the game’s first two goals of that game and that projects to be an important part of this Game 7 as well: Who will be able to score first? All-time in Game 7s the team that scores the first goal has a .751 winning percentage.
Raanta probably won’t steal a game, but he just can’t lose it for Carolina. Shesterkin, on the other hand, has the ability to outright swipe this one from the Canes.
Whose stars will pull through with the best performances?
In Game 6, Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin came through with a couple of important performances and a goal apiece. On the other side, Andrei Svechnikov was quiet with a minus-1 rating and a single shot on goal.
As you might expect, the performances of these top players has been tied to where the games have been played.
In Carolina this round, the Rangers have gotten only one goal apiece from Filip Chytil and Zibanejad, while Carolina’s usual suspects of Sebastian Aho, Svechnikov, Teuvo Teravainen and Vincent Trocheck have provided most of their home offence.
In Round 1’s Game 7 against Boston, Jaccob Slavin recorded a couple of assists and he now has five helpers in three career Game 7s. If he gets one more point in Monday night’s Game 7 he’ll have the most in Hartford/Carolina franchise history…yes, even more than Mr. Game 7 himself, Justin Williams.