The summer hockey experience is looking like it might be a short one for the Rangers.
Two second period goals by the Carolina Hurricanes Monday in Toronto turned the tide in Game 2 and propelled the Hurricanes to a 4-1 victory that gave them a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series and put the Rangers on the brink of elimination. Game 3 of the series will be Tuesday at 8 p.m. and the Rangers will need a victory to extend the series.
Their chances of coming back from an 0-2 hole to win the series are not good: In NHL history, teams that took a 2-0 lead in a best-of-five series have won the series 55 of 56 times. Only the 1985 Islanders, against the Washington Capitals, have rallied to win a best-of-five series after losing the first two games.
“Get a good night’s sleep, wake up, get ready to play again,’’ said Rangers defenseman Marc Staal, who was on the 2014 team that rallied from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Penguins in a best-of-seven series. “We’ve got to reset our minds and get focused on winning one hockey game . . . That’s all you can do, at this point.’’
Carolina’s Andrei Svechnikov had a hat trick, and the Hurricanes, who lost all four regular season games to the Rangers, dominated play for most of the game. Svechnikov’s second goal, a power-play goal on a top-of-the-right circle floater over the right shoulder of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, broke a 1-1 tie at 1:11 of the second period, and Carolina made it 3-1 just 71 seconds later, on a goal by Jordan Martinook after a bad defensive zone turnover. Svechnikov completed his hat trick at 14:02 of the third, finishing a pretty two-on-one pass from Sebastian Aho to wrap up the scoring.
Lundqvist, the surprise starter for Game 1 on Saturday, after No. 1 goalie Igor Shesterkin was deemed “unfit to play,’’ got the start again Monday, despite the fact Shesterkin had practiced Sunday and Rangers coach David Quinn didn’t rule him out. Shesterkin was again unfit for Game 2, and Lundqvist got the start, with Alexandar Georgiev backing him up.
In Game 2, Lundqvist again gave up a goal early in the game, this one to Svechnikov at 4:32 of the first period. As he did in Game 1, he seemed to recover from that and make some big saves to keep his team in the game after that. The Rangers then tied the score at 1-1, midway through the first period, when Artemi Panarin scored a five-on-three goal at 12:05.
But the Rangers couldn’t build on that momentum. Brendan Smith’s high sticking penalty at 1:08 of the second period gave the Hurricanes their second power play of the game, and Carolina quickly capitalized. Aho won the faceoff cleanly against Mika Zibanejad in the left circle, and got the puck back to Sami Vatanen at the point. Vatanen passed cross-ice to Svechnikov, who hit a one-timer that Lundqvist will probably feel he should have stopped. To then give up the Martinook goal so soon after that was a big blow.
“Without question, we got deflated after giving up those two goals in the first two-and-a-half minutes of the second, and it really just changed the whole game,’’ Rangers coach David Quinn said. “I liked our first period, I thought we did a lot of the things we’re going to need to do. And we have been a mentally tough, resilient group; a two-goal deficit hasn’t bothered us over the last two-and-a-half months [prior to the NHL’s March 12 coronavirus pause], but it certainly got in the way today.’’
“It’s a hard way to start off a period,’’ Staal admitted. “I thought we had some momentum going in the first. I think we could have done a better job of staying more connected and sticking with what we were doing. And we got away from it a little bit, and I guess we weren’t able to generate much. You’re going to get deflated during a game. You’ve got to find a way to rally and play better.’’
Asked to assess Lundqvist’ play, Quinn said, “I thought Hank was solid.’’
“Listen, we got one goal,’’ he continued. “We’re not going to win scoring one goal. And we certainly left [Lundqvist] out there to dry on the last two, for sure.’’