The Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers collide in the second round of the Stanlet Cup playoffs after prevailing in their respective seven-game first-round series.
The Hurricanes, according to NHL betting lines, are -200 favorites to qualify for the Eastern Conference Final, while New York is +165 underdogs.
This is a particularly tough series to call when you consider how the Rangers persevered against the Penguins. Down three games to one and trailing by two goals in both Game 5 and 6, the Rangers fought back to overcome staggering odds.
While it’s true the Penguins suffered severely when they lost Sidney Crosby and Casey DeSmith, the Rangers deserve heaps of credit for becoming the first team in NHL history to secure three successive comeback wins when facing elimination.
It’s the type of seismic turnaround that should galvanize the Rangers, potentially spurring them on to unexpected heights.
Will the momentum they gained in a historic first-round comeback be enough to vanquish the Hurricanes, who got the better of the Rangers in three of four regular-season encounters?
Hurricanes Took Three of Four in Regular Season
Carolina dominated the season series, only losing once to the Rangers, which makes sense why NHL playoff odds have them as favorites in the series.
The Hurricanes won both games at Madison Square Garden and controlled the face-off dot every time the two Metropolitan Division teams met.
Winning the face-off battle doesn’t always guarantee success. However, the Rangers weren’t able to win more than 45% in any game versus the Metropolitan Division champions.
The Hurricanes’ face-off dominance facilitated immediate puck possession, which correlated to more shots and opportunities on goal along with extended periods of sustained pressure.
The Hurricanes were only outshot once by the Rangers, another tell-tale sign of Carolina’s superiority in the face-off circle.
There are a few notable differences between their season series and what’s forthcoming when they square off in the second round.
First, Frederik Anderson started between the pipes for Carolina in three of four regular-season contests, with third-string Pyotr Kochetkov getting the nod in the other.
Andersen, who is recovering from a lower-body injury, was sidelined for the duration of the first-round series against the Bruins. Some reports suggest that he will make his long-anticipated return to Carolina’s net in Round 2.
However, those reports are unverified, so, with the usual air of secrecy involving injuries in the postseason, it’s anybody’s guess whether Andersen returns. That leaves Antti Raanta, for now anyway, remaining under the spotlight.
Raanta went 3-2 in the first round, securing a 2.37 goals against average and an impressive .927 save percentage. He will need to at least equal those numbers for Carolina to progress.
Igor Shesterkin awaits the Hurricanes in the opposing goal. The frontrunner for this season’s Vezina Trophy only started in two of four games against the Hurricanes.
Carolina won’t be that lucky this time around.
Contradictory Tales Told the Story of First Round for Both Teams
It was a bit of a paradoxical tale for both the Rangers and Hurricanes in the first round. Let’s first look at the Rangers, whose opening series triumph over the Pens largely belied what contributed to their regular-season success.
The Rangers had the second stingiest defense during the season, allowing just 2.49 goals per contest.
Only the Nashville Predators, who were swept by the high-powered Avs, allowed more goals per game in the first round than the Rangers. The Blueshirts conceded a rather swollen 4.14 goals per game against the Pens.
That gruesome stat correlates directly to the comparatively underwhelming play of star netminder Shesterkin. The all-world goaltender looked fatigued after the marathon triple-overtime Game 1, which required 79 saves in a losing cause.
Shesterkin endured a middling first round, allowing 3.66 goals per game. No starting netminder endured an inferior GAA in the opening series. Compare that to his league-leading 2.07 GAA in the regular season.
In fairness to Shesterkin, his usually reliable defense made a number of uncharacteristic errors in multiple games.
Like the Rangers, Carolina also experienced some perplexing twists against Boston. The Hurricanes owned the third-best away record in the regular season but lost all three contests in Boston.
Chalk up those mysterious happenings to the unexpected nature of playoff hockey. Though don’t expect either team’s contradictory trends to continue through Round 2. Shesterkin will bounce back and remind everyone why he is the Vezina frontrunner and Carolina should win a couple on the road.
The Hurricanes scored first in six of seven games against the Bruins, proving their ability to gain an early lead wasn’t exclusive to the regular season. Carolina notched the first marker in 49 regular-season games, the fourth-highest total.
Scoring the third-most goals (108) in third periods this season, the Hurricanes finish games as well as they start them. Carolina netted nine times in the third period against Boston, three behind the leading Oilers, who managed 12 against the Kings.
The Rangers, with Shesterkin set to prove naysayers wrong, have every chance of upending the favored Hurricanes.
But, thanks to Carolina’s depth and exceedingly strong first and third periods, Rod Brind’Amour’s team should have marginally too much for the Rangers.
The only way New York prevails is if Shesterkin returns to his elite, consistent best. With that caveat conveyed, take the Hurricanes in six games.
Rangers vs. Hurricanes Best Bets
Series Winner: Carolina Hurricanes (-200)
Correct Series Result: Carolina 4-2 (+400)
Games That Go To Overtime: 2 (+260)