The Rangers got Monday off to savor what they had just accomplished: Completing a comeback from a 3-1 series deficit by beating the Pittsburgh Penguins, 4-3, in overtime Sunday night to win their first-round playoff series in seven games.
But one day was all the time they were allowed to rest on their laurels.
On Tuesday, they will be hard at work trying to figure out how to conquer the next challenge: the Metropolitan Division champion Carolina Hurricanes.
The Rangers battled with the Hurricanes for a couple of weeks at the end of the regular season to see who would win the division, but in the final week, Carolina’s 4-3 win at the Garden on April 26 sealed the title for the Hurricanes and gave them the regular-season series between the teams, 3-1.
So the Rangers know exactly what they’re in for when the second-round series begins Wednesday in Raleigh.
“They play a fast, physical game,’’ Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba said Sunday night. “They get it on the forecheck. We’re going to have to be good at breaking pucks out and take advantage of opportunities when we get them.’’
Carolina, which defeated the Boston Bruins in seven games in the first round, was 54-20-8 in the regular season to finish with 116 points, six more than the Rangers.
Their roster is littered with former Rangers — defensemen Brady Skjei, Brendan Smith and Tony DeAngelo, forwards Jesper Fast and Derek Stepan and goaltender Antti Raanta, who backstopped the series win over Boston with No. 1 goalie Frederik Andersen out with a lower-body injury. Andersen could return against the Rangers.
“They’re a very aggressive team; they play ‘north’ hockey; they put pucks to the net,’’ Rangers coach Gerard Gallant told reporters Monday. “So we’ve got to counter that by . . . when they make mistakes, we make sure we get some odd-man rushes, we challenge them, and score some goals that way.
“We’ve got to just be ready to play our game, and we know what they’re going to bring,’’ he said. “They know what we’re going to bring.’’
DeAngelo and fellow defenseman Jaccob Slavin led the Hurricanes in scoring against Boston with eight points each, and DeAngelo led Carolina in assists with seven. Four players — Vincent Trocheck, Seth Jarvis, Andrei Svechnikov and Nino Niederreiter — tied for the team lead in goals with three.
Mika Zibanejad (three goals, eight assists) and Adam Fox (three goals, seven assists) lead the Rangers in playoff scoring. Chris Kreider leads them in goals with five and Andrew Copp has four.
The teams faced each other in the 2020 bubble in Toronto, with the Hurricanes sweeping the Rangers in three games in the best-of-five qualifying round.
The younger Rangers have said they don’t consider that their first playoff experience, given that it was played in an empty arena in Toronto as opposed to the jam-packed, raucous buildings these playoffs are being contested in.
The Rangers will be entering the series full of confidence after winning their final three games against the Penguins and coming from behind in each.
Gallant also said his team will be able to draw on the experience of competing with Carolina for the division title.
“We were challenging there . . . so I don’t think they look at our team and say, ‘Well, this is going to be an easy series,’ ’’ he said.
“When we’re ready to play, we’re as good a team as anybody in this league, and we’ve proven that. So we’re never going to quit. We’re going to battle hard. And I think it’s going to be a hell of a series.’’
Rangers vs. Hurricanes in regular season
The Rangers faced the Hurricanes, their second-round playoff opponent and Metropolitan Division rival, four times in the regular season, losing three of those games. Here’s a recap:
Jan. 21 at Carolina — Hurricanes 6, Rangers 3: Divisive defenseman Tony DeAngelo had a goal and two assists in his first game against his former team, and the Hurricanes built a 5-1 lead through two periods. It marked the Rangers’ only loss in a stretch of six games.
March 20 at Carolina — Rangers 2, Hurricanes 0: Backup goalie Alexandar Georgiev had 44 saves in the shutout, with Chris Kreider and Frank Vatrano scoring as the Rangers completed an impressive weekend road back-to-back after beating the Lightning the night before.
April 12 at Madison Square Garden — Hurricanes 4, Rangers 2: Krieder became the fourth Ranger to reach 50 goals but third-period tallies from Seth Jarvis and Jordan Staal gave the Hurricanes a 3-1 lead. It was the only loss in a stretch of eight games for the Rangers.
April 26 at MSG — Hurricanes 4, Rangers 3: The Hurricanes clinched first place in the Metropolitan Division as Sebastian Aho’s four-on-four goal 32 seconds into the third period gave them a 4-1 lead before the Rangers tried to mount a rally. The bigger scare was Artemi Panarin and Andrew Copp both leaving the game with injuries that turned out to be minor.