Rangers' Chris Kreider, second from right, celebrates his goal against...

Rangers' Chris Kreider, second from right, celebrates his goal against the Carolina Hurricanes with teammates during the third period in Game 6 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup second-round playoff series in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, May 16, 2024. Credit: AP/Karl B DeBlaker

RALEIGH, N.C. — When it was all over, and Chris Kreider had almost singlehandedly powered the Rangers past the Carolina Hurricanes, scoring a third-period natural hat trick to rescue them from a two-goal deficit and deliver them into the Eastern Conference Final via a 5-3 win Thursday at PNC Arena in Game 6 of this second-round playoff series, Kreider was asked to confirm the fact that he’d told his teammates during the second intermission that he believed he would score.

“I mean, I dunno,’’ Kreider said. “I just think as we raised our level and we started getting pucks to the net, I just tried to get there.’’

Vincent Trocheck, sitting next to Kreider, would not let the star of the game get away with dodging the question, however.

“I think he did,’’ Trocheck said, answering the question for Kreider.

And when Trocheck was asked what the rest of the team thought when Kreider said that, he replied, “I said I sure hope so.’’

Kreider joined Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky as the only players in Rangers history to score a hat trick in any period of a playoff game.

It was Kreider’s first career playoff hat trick.

The Rangers were down 3-1 in the third period and looking dead in the water, staring at having to play a Game 7 Saturday at Madison Square Garden, in a series they’d led 3-0. But Kreider, who’d missed practice Wednesday with what the team called a “maintenance’’ issue, wouldn’t let it happen.

He got the first goal when he jammed in the rebound of a shot by Mika Zibanejad at 6:43 of the third period. That made it 3-2 and gave the Rangers life. They tied it 3-3 when their ice-cold power play came through at the most critical time, with Kreider tipping in a shot by Artemi Panarin at 11:54.

Finally, Kreider finished the hat trick, and gave the Rangers the lead when Ryan Lindgren circled the net and came out from behind the right wing goal post and sent a feed across the crease, where Kreider banged it in for his seventh goal of the playoffs, at 15:41.

“I think we knew if we just stuck with it, up to our level, we’d give ourselves a chance,’’ said Barclay Goodrow, whose empty-net goal with 48.1 seconds sealed it. “And then Kreids put the team on his back. He’s obviously monstrous.’’

“Obviously that [first] goal was a tough one,’’ Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said afterward. “It can’t happen. We know that. You can’t give a team like that a goal, and I thought we gave them a couple . . .

“And then the momentum changes a little, and then obviously we took a penalty, and then their top guys took over in the third, once they got that one.’’

The Rangers, the Presidents’ Trophy winner as the best team in the regular season, had swept their first-round series against Washington, and then took a 3-0 lead against Carolina, winning three one-goal games, including one in double-overtime and another in overtime.

But Carolina won Game 4 here and Game 5 in the Garden Monday to throw a real scare into the Rangers. In Game 6, they took a 2-0 lead and then a 3-1 lead, and at that point, they looked as though they would be the 10th team in NHL history to force a Game 7 after being down 3-0. Four teams have won a best-of-seven series after trailing 3-0.

But Kreider’s heroics saved the Rangers and advanced them to the conference finals. They are the first team to advance to the conference final and will face the winner of the series between the Florida Panthers and Boston Bruins. The Panthers lead, 3-2, with Game 6 Friday in Boston.

Carolina opened the scoring when Martin Necas crunched Lindgren in the corner and then drove to the net, wide open, and took a pass from Jordan Martinook from behind the net. He lifted a shot over the catching glove of Igor Shesterkin (33 saves) with 1:22 remaining in the first period.

A power-play goal by Seth Jarvis made it 2-0 at 4:38 of the second period, before Trocheck got the Rangers on the board with a tip-in of a shot by Panarin (two assists) less than a minute later, at 5:29. But a risky pinch at the left point by Miller sprang Aho for a 2-on-1 with Jake Guentzel. Aho faked a pass to Guentzel and fired a shot past Shesterkin to make it 3-1 at 9:23.

Lindgren scored with just under seven minutes left in the period, when he drove the middle of the ice and slipped a shot between Frederik Andersen’s legs that looked like a sure goal. But Martinook, hustling back, hurled himself toward the sliding puck and was able to hook it off the goal line.

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