RALEIGH, N.C. — It’s official. The Rangers’ power-play drought is over.
But Sebastian Aho scored two power-play goals of his own in the third period Thursday night as the Hurricanes beat the Rangers, 4-3, at PNC Arena.
So for the Rangers, the special-teams glass was half-full.
But coach Alain Vigneault and goalie Antti Raanta were particularly incensed about the goal by Aho that tied the score at 3-3 in the third. Elias Lindholm’s elbow hit Raanta, who was standing in the crease, loosening his mask as the puck went by. Raanta complained and Vigneault challenged the call, but Aho’s goal stood after a review at 9:04.
“In all the times that I’ve asked for challenges, this one I’m 100 percent sure I’m right,” a defiant Vigneault said. “The ref that hadn’t made the call . . . said it was a good goal because Antti was out of the blue, which I’m looking at [on replay], and his two feet are in the blue paint and there’s contact that lifts his mask. Then they told us that Antti’s feet were in the blue, but his head was outside the blue paint. In my opinion, it was the wrong call.”
He added, “Ask the league. They’re going to spin it anyway so they look all right, and that’s the way it always is.”
Said Raanta, “I felt I was at the top of the crease like I try to be when the puck is at the point. I try to be as big as possible. When the pass was going to Aho, I heard the shot and at the same time, my mask is on my nose, so it’s really tough to see the puck after that. The puck went in, and at first I was thinking it was our own d-man because they were allowing the goal, but when I saw the replay, you see their guy is skating just past me and hits me in the head. It’s a little questionable.”
He asked the referees, Gord Dwyer and Francois St. Laurent, saying: “I don’t know what the rule is. If I can’t be on the top of my crease, should I be on the goal line or what should I do there?”
Derek Stepan said he really didn’t understand the explanation on the tying goal either. “What I gathered was that Raant’s feet were in the blue paint, but his upper body was out of it. It’s a big goal and they get some momentum on it . . . If you don’t win the special-teams battle, you put yourself in a tough spot to win the hockey game. We didn’t really grab a hold of it, and it costs us.”
Aho then scored his 20th goal at 12:28 as the penalty kill wilted under pressure at the end of three games in four nights.
Mika Zibanejad scored twice with the man-advantage in the second period and Chris Kreider scored on a five-on-three in the first period as the Rangers snapped 0-for-27 and 1-for-41 dry spells and took a 3-2 lead after 40 minutes.
It was the first time the Blueshirts had netted three power-play goals since a visit to Arizona on Dec. 29, when they scored four. It wasn’t enough, however, as the Rangers’ road winning streak ended at five games.
Kreider banged in his 26th goal of the season — tying Michael Grabner for the team lead — and sixth on the power play. He took a pass from Stepan from behind the net and beat Cam Ward at 7:24 of the first period. Derek Ryan, for a high-sticking that opened a cut over Kevin Hayes’ left eye, triggering a four-minute minor, and Elias Lindholm, for tripping Kreider, were in the box.
But the sloppy Rangers couldn’t build on that, and the Hurricanes struck back with two goals in 29 seconds, thanks to some awful defensive-zone turnovers. Kevin Hayes tried to poke the puck out of the zone, but it was intercepted and sent right to Jeff Skinner alone in front. He had time to deke and beat Raanta (26 saves) with a backhand at 13:15. Then Valentin Zykov scored his first NHL goal, muscling between Marc Staal and Ryan McDonagh for a backhander past Raanta.
In the second, the Rangers picked up the pace. With Victor Rask in the box, Zibanejad grabbed a loose puck in a scrum to the left of Ward, who faced 43 shots, and flipped it in at 7:16.
Zibanejad’s 11th of the season came on an awful gaffe, a tape-to-tape pass from Jay McClement, behind the net. His shot went through at 16:42.
Stepan, who hasn’t scored in 22 games and hit the post with four minutes to play in regulation, thought the Rangers “sat back” with a 3-2 lead in the third period. “I don’t think it was structure,’’ he said. “We sat back and stopped making plays.”