The series ledger now reads: Rangers, two wins; Hurricanes, two wins. And that makes this second-round series a best-of-three, with two of them in Carolina, where the Hurricanes have yet to lose in these playoffs
.But the Rangers have proven through the first four games, especially Tuesday night’s 4-1 win at Madison Square Garden, that they are the more complete team, with a better goalie and a more dangerous power play. They have the tools to negate the Hurricanes’ home-ice advantage, where the Caniac fans are actually more genteel and quieter than the Pittsburgh crowd that nearly did in Igor Shesterkin in Games 3 and 4 before the Rangers rallied from a 3-1 series deficit in the first round.
They are a team that should win this series to face the two-time defending Stanley Cup-champion Lightning in the Eastern Conference final.
It’s on the Rangers if they don’t.
Look, this is not to suggest either Thursday night’s Game 5 in Carolina or, if necessary, Monday’s Game 7 are gimmes for the Rangers. The Hurricanes outscored the Bruins, 18-6, at PNC Arena in winning all four home games in that first-round series while being outscored 14-6 in losing all three at TD Garden.
But this series is not that. This series has been much closer, home or away, for either team.
“The four games have been pretty much one-goal games most of the way through and I just think it’s been outstanding hockey by both teams,” said Rangers coach Gerard Gallant, who does not believe in momentum carrying from one game to the next.
The Rangers lost Game 1, 2-1 in overtime after surrendering the lead at 17:37 of the third period. Antti Raanta pitched a 2-0 shutout in Game 2, the first of his career in the playoffs.
So there’s nothing to suggest the Rangers can’t win in Carolina. On the contrary, the odds would suggest if they keep trotting out those kind of road efforts, they’ll win one of these, especially if Shesterkin keeps elevating his game after stopping 73 of 75 shots in Games 3 and 4.
“It’s huge to get the series to get the series back to even,” defenseman Ryan Lindgren said. “We played the hockey we wanted to play in Carolina even though we didn’t get the score.”
“We’re confident,” said Andrew Copp, who clinched the game with a goal at 11:10 of the third period and added two assists. “Staying even keel was important after the two games in Carolina. Both games are kind of right there and maybe we didn’t produce as much offensively.”
Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour will have last change at home so he’ll be able to match Jordan Staal’s checking line with Mika Zibanejad’s top line with Chris Kreider. Those two were mostly invisible in Game 2.
Staal wondered whether one of the Hurricanes’ road issues was getting too emotional and not staying disciplined. That’s something the Rangers have shown they can do away from the Garden.
Game 4 did have some vestigial remains of the post-Game 3 scrum when the Hurricanes’ Max Domi cross checked Lindgren and Gallant told yapping defenseman Tony DeAngelo to “Shut the [heck] up.”
Defenseman Jacob Trouba leveled Domi in the first period in a momentum-changing hit as Steven Lorentz immediately went after him to draw a two-minute instigator penalty and 10-minute misconduct in addition to five for fighting. Frank Vatrano then scored on the power play at 13:31 — seven seconds before the man advantage expired — and defenseman Adam Fox tipped a Lindgren snipe from the left circle to make it 2-0 at 15:42 of the first period.
Ryan Reaves, who Gallant said he could sic on the Hurricanes if they wanted to play that way, leveled Andrei Svechnikov and jawed with DeAngelo on a shift later in the first period. He also went after Domi after the final horn, prompting a quick scrum.
Both teams believe they can play physical hockey and the Hurricanes do have two agitators in Domi and DeAngelo. But Reaves and Trouba are heavier hitters so advantage Rangers.
Besides, the Hurricanes showed no inclination in Game 4 to suddenly become bruisers.
Meanwhile, the Rangers showed the past two games they can match the Hurricanes’ speed while playing more physically.
It’s on them to make sure that translates into winning this series.