Rangers Will Be Tough Out in Playoffs But Hurricanes Are Still the Class of the Metro

Abbey MastraccoApril 13, 2022

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 12:  Chris Kreider #20 of the New York Rangers takes a face-off against Sebastian Aho #20 of the Carolina Hurricanes at Madison Square Garden on April 12, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)
Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images

NEW YORK — First place in the Metropolitan Division was on the line Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden as the New York Rangers aimed to leapfrog the division-leading Carolina Hurricanes. When the horn sounded, though, the Hurricanes had further padded their cushion, taking a four-point lead over the second-place Rangers. 

The Rangers might be a team on the rise—they had won three straight heading into Tuesday's game—but the Hurricanes proved they're still a step ahead.

It's April in the NHL, which means games carry increased magnitude as teams jostle for playoff positioning. The Rangers and Hurricanes have both clinched playoff spots and are almost assured home-ice advantage in the first round, but Carolina's 4-2 victory Tuesday demonstrated the Hurricanes' ability to push back and hold their ground, even against a hot, talented opponent on the road. 

Freddie Andersen Has Great Stickhandling Skills...And Is a Darn Good Goalie

Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Frederik Andersen (31) watches play during the second period of an NHL hockey game against New York Rangers, Tuesday April 12, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews

Frederik Andersen has been a revelation for the Hurricanes this season. After struggling last season with the Maple Leafs, the 32-year-old netminder has found his best form in Carolina, posting career-highs in goals against average (2.07) and save percentage (.926).

On Tuesday, he went toe-to-toe with Vezina favorite Igor Shesterkin in a goalie matchup Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said featured two of the league's best.

Colin Stephenson @ColinSNewsday

GG toys with us, says there's "a good chance" the top two goalies in the league are playing tonight. (Igor and Freddie Andersen are tied with the league's best GAA, at 2.07)

The Rangers spent a good chunk of the first period in the offensive zone, including a pair of power plays, but Andersen kept them scoreless. He ultimately stopped 28 of 30 shots Tuesday night, with a large chunk of his saves coming amid that first-period barrage from the Rangers. Andersen's play kept the Hurricanes afloat until the offense was able to find its footing and make an aggressive push to tally three third-period goals.

"We were really poor to start the game," coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "We turned the puck over in our own end 12 times on our sticks. So that just sets up their game. We didn't give up a ton, but it was too much in our zone, and we found it in the third period. Freddie kept us in there, made some saves when he had to and had a good third period." 

The Canes have finally found their No. 1 netminder.

They've been a top team in the league going back to the 2018-19 season when they reached the Eastern Conference Final, but their goaltending has been inconsistent. Petr Mrazek ended their nine-year playoff drought in 2019 and helped pilot them there again in 2020 with James Reimer filling in the gaps. Alex Nedeljkovic was a Calder Award finalist last season, but the two parties couldn't come to an agreement on a long-term contract, and Carolina traded him to the rebuilding Detroit Red Wings.

Andersen had been bumped out of the top spot with the Toronto Maple Leafs by the end of last season. His move to a smaller market has allowed him to fly underneath the radar while rediscovering his game. This version of Andersen looks more like the one who won a Jennings Trophy in Anaheim in 2016. And he looks even better than when he put up a .916 save percentage over his first four seasons in Toronto. 

As it turns out, he's even a pretty good puck-handler, too. He played the puck at the blue line as he came off the ice for a delayed penalty in one of the most entertaining moments of Tuesday's game. 

B/R Open Ice @BR_OpenIce

Freddie's got handles?? 👀 <a href="https://twitter.com/Canes?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Canes</a> <a href="https://t.co/ksZek1Xsxc">pic.twitter.com/ksZek1Xsxc</a>

"I just felt the puck came to me and I wanted to try and keep it alive," Andersen said. "It's a little bit of a free play. As soon as (the Rangers) touch it they'll freeze it down, so I had a little freedom. It was fun to touch it up there."

It certainly got the bench fired up and Brind'Amour questioning his goalie's knowledge of the rules. 

"He can't cross the (red line) or we get a penalty, so I'm like 'Oh man,' hoping he knows that," Brind'Amour said. "It's a pretty low-risk play because it was a delayed penalty. I thought it was funny and the boys enjoyed it, that's for sure."

Canes' PK Shuts Down Rangers' Dangerous Power Play

The power play is where the Blueshirts typically shine, with the second-best conversion percentage in the league (25.9 percent). After the pair of chances in the first period, they had another power-play opportunity in each of the second and third periods.

But the Canes killed off all four of those extra-man opportunities.

For Brind'Amour, the penalty kill was the true star of the contest.

"That to me is the game," Brind'Amour said. "Was it four, maybe? It felt like 10. Every time they get one you worry because they are so lethal. If they score on that, it's a totally different game. They had a couple of chances but I thought that for the amount of time we were on the kill we did a pretty good job."

This is the type of game we can expect from the Hurricanes moving into the postseason: an aggressive push, strong special teams and reliance on Andersen to keep everyone calm.  

Chris Kreider and the Rangers Are Going to Be a Tough Out in the Playoffs

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 12:  Chris Kreider #20 of the New York Rangers celebrates after becoming the fourth player in New York Rangers history to score 50 goals in a season in the third period against the Carolina Hurricanes  at Madison Square Garden on April 12, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

If this was a potential second-round playoff preview, we know one thing is clear: the Rangers aren't going to go down so easily.

The Rangers have myriad weapons, sure, but any team with a 50-goal scorer is going to cause problems in the postseason. Kreider scored No. 50 with under two minutes left on Tuesday to pull New York back within one. 

After Kreider's goal, the Hurricanes iced the game with an empty-netter by Sebastien Aho, but the Rangers' late tally was enough to put a scare in the Metropolitan Division leaders. 

The Rangers are a tight group heading into the playoffs, one that believes they're never out of a game. New York has 26 comeback wins this season, and that tenacity is a valuable postseason trait.

"We’ve got some absolutely incredible people in that room who were pulling for me, and that means the world," Kreider said.  

Tuesday's game gave us an idea of what both of these teams are capable of in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, the Metro Division hasn't quite been decided yet. Both teams have eight games remaining, including the fourth and final matchup of their season series (Carolina leads 2-1) on April 26 again at The Garden—a game that could decide the division winner.

Let the drama commence.