Winning on the road in the playoffs is always a challenge, but winning on the road in Raleigh this year has been impossible. The New York Rangers had the momentum, but something about PNC Arena stumps the opposition, as the Carolina Hurricanes improved to 7-0 at home with a 3-1 win in Game 5.
Now the Rangers’ backs are to the wall again, but it’s a position that does not make them uncomfortable. It seems that coach Gerard Gallant‘s group plays their best hockey when trailing in any fashion. The knowledge that it’s a do-or-die situation can overwhelm some teams, but the Rangers seem to get a boost from the added pressure.
Fortunately for them, friendly confines await for a must-win Game 6. Unfortunately for them, a daunting task awaits in Game 7, but to even have a chance at doing the seemingly impossible, they first must handle the Canes at Madison Square Garden. And handle opponents at home, they have done, boasting a 5-1 record at home in these playoffs.
It seems like a tall task, but the Rangers will have to climb out of another series hole if they wish to keep their season alive. And seemingly, they have failed to do everything they have done well at home on the road, culminating in their worst game of the series in Game 5.
What Went Wrong in Game 5?
Game 5 was pure domination by the Hurricanes, but a Ryan Strome goal getting overturned was the turning point. Despite being heavily outplayed, the Rangers thought they had taken a 2-1 lead courtesy of a spin-around shot by Strome. But a Rod Brind’Amour challenge for offside would prove successful, taking the goal off the board and dashing the Rangers’ chances.
Had that play been deemed onsides, the Rangers would have had the lead and momentum, but that all came crashing down quickly. Not long later, a power-play goal put the Hurricanes up 2-1, and they did not look back. As crucial as that challenge was, the Rangers simply got out-willed and outplayed (from ‘Rangers face elimination after feeble Game 5 loss to Hurricanes,’ New York Post, 05/26/22).
They couldn’t sustain any forecheck or offensive zone pressure throughout the entire game. Despite generating offense and pressure in Games 3 and 4, the Blueshirts looked lost for 60 minutes in Game 5. Their special teams, which did provide the lone goal for the Rangers, also yielded short-handed and power-play markers. And as the saying goes, lose the special teams battle, lose the game.
The Rangers were also doubled up in shots by Carolina, 34-17, epitomizing the Hurricanes’ puck control throughout the game. Neither Chris Kreider nor Artemi Panarin recorded a shot on goal, a tell-tale sign of a Rangers’ struggle. The absence of Kreider and Panarin’s offense on the road, primarily in this series, has created a self-inflicted barrier in ending Carolina’s home dominance.
Do the Rangers Have Another Comeback in Them?
The Rangers made history with their 3-1 comeback in round one. The resilient Blueshirts will have to come from 3-2 down to advance to the Eastern Conference Final. Throughout the comeback, it was the big names making key plays, and Gallant will need that again here.
Kreider and Panarin will have to be consistent over the next two games. Shesterkin will have to be nearly perfect like he had been before Game 5. The kids will have to find a way to contribute, and the defense will have to be active on the offensive end without impacting their defensive positioning.
Can they do it again? Absolutely. But once again, the odds are stacked against the Rangers. More than 79 percent of the time, the Game 5 winner goes on to win the series when it’s tied at 2-2. It won’t be easy, but the way the Rangers have battled all season long, you get the impression that they see those odds as a 21 percent chance they make it, as opposed to a 79 percent chance they don’t.
This group has learned a lot already through this postseason and has a chance to show the hockey world just how good they are now and how much of a pain they will be to play for the foreseeable future. Despite the optimism that surrounds this group for the long haul, Gallant’s squad has their focus set on one thing, another comeback series win.
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Brendan Azoff is a THW contributor and podcast host dedicated to covering the New York Rangers. His passion for hockey started when he first laced up the skates at three, growing into his love for writing and talking about the greatest sport in the world. His podcast, The Backcheck, breaks down the Rangers, Islanders, and NHL news and can be found on The Hockey Writers Podcast Network and Belly Up Sports. Brendan has been writing about the Rangers and the NHL for over two years, with his content also found on Puck Prose, Blue Line Station, and E2G Sports. If you want to connect with Brendan and stay up-to-date on his posts, follow him on Twitter. He is always available for content ideas and interviews, don’t be afraid to ask!