The Hurricanes nearly pulled the ultimate troll job last night as they were minutes away from upsetting the New York Rangers and putting their playoff chances in serious jeopardy. Why would this be a huge troll job on the Hurricanes part? Put yourself in the shoes of a Rangers fan. On Tuesday, you had a chance to seal up a playoff spot but ended up losing to a bad Florida Panthers taem despite outplaying them for the majority of the contest. Tonight, you have another chance to clinch and all you have to do is beat a Hurricanes team that has won a total of four games in the last month and had only 17 skaters dressed for tonight's game. If you're a New York fan you were probably thinking "this should be easy enough" and assume that this game would be a cakewalk. That isn't how things went down, though.
The Rangers nearly saw history repeat itself tonight since they vastly outplayed the Hurricanes for 2/3 of the game but found themselves down 3-2 in the dying seconds of the third period. The Hurricanes recorded only six shots through the final two periods but found themselves ahead because half of them beat Ranger goaltender Henrik Lundqvist while Dan Ellis made 25+ saves over the same time. That's right, the same goaltender who the Rangers chased after two periods in these two team's last meeting was out-dueling the reigning Vezina trophy winner to potentially steal a game for the Hurricanes that they had no business being in with their playoff lives essentially on the line. Fortunately for the Rangers, the hockey gods weren't having any of this.
With about four minutes remaining in the third period, Carolina forward Tuomo Ruutu was whistled for a very soft tripping call to give the Rangers a late powerplay. The Hurricanes did a great job of preventing the Rangers from creating a lot of offense on this powerplay and it looked like this soft call wouldn't matter. That is, until Brad Richards let a long shot from the point go which bounced off the boards off Ellis' skate and into the net. All of the things that were going right for the Hurricanes over the previous 40 minutes completely reversed here, as the Rangers got an incredibly lucky goal off a penalty that should have never been called. This didn't end there, though as the Hurricanes started off the overtime period well, controlled play but could not get anything past Henrik Lundqvitst. After the Canes ran out of the gas, the Rangers got a turn to set up a play and scored on basically their first foray into the Carolina zone. This was another sort of "lucky" goal since Ryan Callahan was able to catch Ellis out of position and beat him shortside to clinch a playoff birth for the Rangers.
What was a special night for the Staal family with young Jared making his debut ended up being an even more special night for the Rangers, as they will be the ones whose season continues over these next couple of months while the Hurricanes had only game remaining on their schedule before they hit the links. The Rangers got the help of a gift penalty call and a lucky goal, but their quality of play was superior to Carolina's for most of this game and they deserved this win. Good teams can create their own bounces and the Rangers were long overdue for one after how their last couple of games have gone. The Hurricanes nearly got away with one here, but like I said earlier, the hockey gods didn't allow that to happen.
New York Rangers at Carolina Hurricanes
I'm not going to sugarcoat the penalty on Ruutu, it was awful and I think the score & time of the game influenced it more than anything else. That being said, I'm not going to blame the refs for "costing" the Hurricanes this game because they dug their own grave by sitting back and producing little offense for the second and third period. The terms were pretty even in the opening 20 minutes, but the Rangers took over after that and established a huge territorial advantage. That might sound weird because New York had a 2-0 lead in the first period while the Hurricanes evened it up and took the lead in the next two frames, but the Canes were very fortunate to have that happen. They created only four total scoring chances in the second and third periods and all but one of them beat Lundqvist. Some say that tonight's game was an example of how nothing has gone this team's way this year, but a lot of things went right for them in that second & third period. The Canes wouldn't have had the lead if it wasn't for some very good fortune, particularly with the play of Ellis and their defense blocking shots out of pure desperation. The bounces eventually evened out in the end and the Rangers prevailed.
I would also like to touch on the overtime period briefly. Kirk Muller has been rolling three forwards with one defenseman in overtime and this is very, very risky when you consider the Canes blue-line personnel. If they can contain the zone for 80% of the time, then there's a good chance this strategy will work out but one slip up, and you have a very good chance of an odd-man rush going the other way. We saw this in action here as the Hurricanes controlled the first three minutes of the overtime period and trapped the Rangers into their own zone. When they let up on the pressure, the Rangers had time to set up a play and Ryan Callahan was able to cleanly carry the puck in and get a bit of a soft goal past Ellis. It's a high-risk strategy and unfortunately for the Canes, they've been on the losing end of it in the three times they've tried this.
Hurricanes Individual Scoring Chances
Best EV Forwards: Nicolas Blanchard, Tuomo Ruutu & Jared Staal EVEN
Worst EV Forwards: Chad LaRose & Jiri Tlusty -6
Best EV Defenseman: Justin Faulk -1
Worst EV Defenseman: Marc-Andre Bergeron -5
Carolina was about as shorthanded as you can get for this game. They had only 17 skaters active, were missing Alexander Semin, Joe Corvo and had to recall Tim Wallace immediately after sending him down last night. Jared Staal, the youngest of the Staal Brothers, was also playing his first NHL game and lost Jay Harrison in the first period after he was busted open from taking a puck to the face. In other words, Carolina was dressing a roster that was far from ideal and leaned heavily on their top players to do most of the work.
No Carolina player had a positive scoring chance differential at even strength and Eric Staal's line ended up taking most of the defensive damage. Chad LaRose was (
inexplicably) bumped up to this line and you can see that his presence didn't lead to much offense. Eric Staal factored into more than half of the Hurricanes total scoring chances but gave up just as much in the other end. His line produced a goal at the very least, as he was able to create a two-on-one with Jiri Tlusty after Michael Del Zotto was caught deep on an aggressive offenseive play. Tlusty also scored a big powerplay goal in the second period to ge tthe Canes on the board and it was the end result of him getting a great pass from Jeff Skinner in front of the net and tapping the puck home. I can't say that I'm not worried about how Tlusty is giving up more chances than he is producing but Ill be damned if he isn't good at finding the soft spot in the defense & converting on scoring chances.
The only other line to generate a goal was a fragmented one featuring Tuomo Ruutu, Jordan Staal and Kevin Westgarth. Westgarth was actually useful tonight, as he factored into three of Carolina's scoring chances and played a key role in setting up Ruutu's goal. We won a board battle against four Ranger players, was able to get the puck to Ruutu and spring him for a two-on-one. Westgarth struggles to stay in the lineup because his skillset is limited but if he can continue to make plays like that, then I wouldn't mind him playing more often. Unfortunately, both Jordan and Ruutu were pretty quiet offensively at even strength overall but most of the team was, as well. Ruutu at least managed to tread water in the scoring chance department. He was also a +4 in even strength shot attempts despite the rest of the team getting shelled, which adds up to a solid game for him.
One of the other few players who managed not to end up in the red in scoring chances was Jared Staal, who looked pretty solid in his debut. His AHL numbers have never been impressive, so I wasn't expecting much from him but he played his role fine. He was strong along the boards, recorded a scoring chance in overtime and was able to keep the play in front of him for the most part. Kirk Muller threw him a bone by giving him ice-time in the OT period and he took advantage of it there. I'm not sure if he has a future with this team, but it was nice to see him play well in his debut.
Carolina's defense was in pitiful shape coming into tonight, as they were already down one defenseman who played top-four minutes and Harrison going down meant that one of McBain, Bergeron or Sanguinetti had to replace those minutes. McBain ended up being one of those guys and he predictably got crushed in his own zone, being on the ice for nine Ranger scoring chances. He also looked brutal on Derek Stepan's goal in the first period when got sucked in by the puck carried & ignored the guy in the slot. Marc-Andre Bergeron didn't fare much better and he had a few near-disasters when he was trying to lead a breakout. Every time he touches the puck in the defensive zone, it's a high-wire act and it was on full-display tonight.
Justin Faulk & Tim Gleason were the only defense pairing t not give up more than five scoring chances and they actually did a pretty good job at keeping the Ranger forwards from getting shots away in the scoring areas. They were scrambling a bit while trying to cover Rick Nash's line but I think they did a solid job at containing them overall. It was a nice rebound from their ugly performance against the Islanders the other night.
Rangers Individual Scoring Chances
|4||Michael Del Zotto||21:21||8||5||1:12||0||0||0:03||0||0|
Best EV Forward: Carl Hagelin +7
Worst EV Forwards: Brad Richards, Chris Kreider & Matt Gilroy -1
Best EV Defenseman: Dan Girardi +6
Worst EV Defensemen: John Moore & Steve Eminger -1
Hagelin, Stepan and Callahan tore the Hurricanes apart last night and Hagelin had himself a field day by being on the ice for 11 even strength scoring chances. Yet another case of a line with great skaters abusing the Hurricanes slower defensemen as these three seemed to be everywhere and giving Carolina a ton of trouble whenever they were on the ice. Derick Brassard had a very strong game, as well.
One thing the Hurricanes managed to do well was contain some of the Rangers better forwards as Nash & Richards didn't do much at even strength compared to the rest of the team. However, the Hagelin-Stepan-Brassard line made up for that damage and their defense kept Carolina's best forwards in check with McDonagh & Girardi both having terrific performances.
With Richards centering the third line, the Rangers have three units that they can really hurt you with, so Muller had to be extra careful with his matchups. He ended up putting Jordan Staal against Brassard's line, which also houses Rick Nash, while Eric Staal lined up against Derek Stepan's line. He may have been better off switching roles because while Nash is always a threat, Stepan's line has been the Rangers most consistent this year and was by far, their most dangerous line last night. He also spread out Faulk & Gleason's minutes against basically all of the Rangers' top-nine instead of matching them up with one line in particular. Kind of tells you how much he trusts the other defense pairings. I also like how Girardi & McDonagh were able to stay on Eric Staal's line despite John Tortorella not having the last change.
Not many positives to gleam over here if you're a Canes fan. The Stepan line crushed just about everything in their path's while McDonagh & Girardi dominated the Canes first line. Bergeron, Sanguinetti & McBain were also left on the ice against the Rangers first line long enough for them to record three or more scoring chances, but I guess that was bound to happen with the Hurricanes defense being shorthanded as it is. The Rangers fourth line was the only one to lose all of their matchups and they barely played, so there's that.
Having a late lead combined with an injury depleted roster and losing another defensemen led to a ton of conservative play from the Hurricanes as they basically just got the puck deep for the entire third period and nothing else. Oddly enough, all three of their goals came off of controlled zone entries so perhaps it may have been a good idea to try to gain the line with control more often. Eric Staal was the only player who did that consistently during five-on-five play. The Rangers defense made it very tough for Carolina to get any offense off dump-ins since they were winning most of the battles & beating the Canes to every puck. More of the reason why Muller's emphasis on dump-and-chase play doesn't work in a lot of situations.
The Rangers owned the neutral zone in this game, having seven more controlled entries than the Hurricanes during five-on-five play and generating 12 more shot attempts off their total entries. However, they weren't able to generate that much offense off their controlled entries as they possibly could have. This was especially true for the Haglien-Stepan-Callahan line who had 14 controlled entries but only 7 shot attempts off them. That line also responsible for 32% of their total 5v5 entries while the Nash-Brassard-Clowe was responsible for 23% of their entries.
Carolina has now earned points in four out of five games. Unfortunately, this stretch is coming when they are already eliminated from the playoffs and playing worse hockey than they were for most of the season.
|1||NYR||16:41||Stepan – GOAL||12||72||8||4||44||31||21||24||62||4||6||30||5v5|
|1||NYR||4:08||Brassard – GOAL||12||19||59||24||47||31||16||36||62||4||5||30||5v5|
|2||CAR||15:09||Tlusty – GOAL||12||19||53||27||47||31||8||62||5||27||30||5v4|
|2||CAR||12:09||Ruutu – GOAL||11||8||15||4||24||31||16||29||61||4||6||30||5v5|
|3||CAR||19:11||Tlusty – GOAL||12||19||59||4||24||31||21||24||62||4||6||30||5v5|
|OT||NYR||2:04||Callahan – GOAL||12||19||59||47||31||21||24||6||27||30||4v4|