The Rangers Win the Special Teams Battle, Take Game 1 of the 2nd Round 4-3 at MSG

Zibanejad records three points in the first period, and the Rangers are perfect on special teams as the Hurricanes' comeback falls short in the series opener.
Carolina Hurricanes v New York Rangers - Game One
Carolina Hurricanes v New York Rangers - Game One / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

After battling down to the wire for the Metropolitan Division crown and making quick work of their opponents in the opening round, the Carolina Hurricanes and the New York Rangers squared off in the first game of the second round on Sunday. The Rangers completed the only sweep of the first round by dominating the Washington Capitals, and the Hurricanes finished the Islanders in five games, winning 6-3 on Tuesday night. With plenty of familiarity between these two teams, this series was certain to get started with a bang.

Frederik Andersen took the crease for the Hurricanes to open the series after a phenomenal series against the Islanders. The rest of the lineup remained the same, including Tony DeAngelo, who'd been slashed on the arm late in Game 5. Igor Shesterkin was the starter for the Rangers. Shesterkin won all four games in New York's sweep and was the starting goalie when the Rangers beat the Hurricanes in the second round in 2022.

The action was fast and furious in the opening minutes of Game 1. Mika Zibanejad got it going quickly, scoring less than three minutes into the game after a terrible defensive breakdown by the Hurricanes. Jaccob Slavin responded 62 seconds later. Slavin's shot from the point hit Alexis Lafreniere's stick up high and bounced past Igor Shesterkin to tie the game.

The difference in the game was New York's ability to convert on special teams. Mika Zibanejad doubled up, burying a terrific pass from Chris Kreider from the left dot to make it 2-1 just nine seconds into the man advantage. Late in the period, Zibanejad was on the giving end of the play, setting up Vincent Trocheck for a tap-in at the front of the net for New York's second power-play marker of the period. In just 22 seconds of power-play time, the Rangers pushed their lead to two goals.

I thought the Hurricanes were much better in the second period, getting some incredible chances to pull within a goal. Jordan Staal was denied on a breakaway. Dmitry Orlov had a chance thwarted by a backchecking Chris Kreider. The Canes had two chances on the power play that yielded no results. Despite being outshot 10-6 in the period, Carolina put together a solid road period. The only problem is that they weren't able to make up any ground.

While the second period was an empty one for the Hurricanes, Martin Necas helped make it a tighter game early in the third. Jordan Martinook sprung Necas for a partial breakaway, allowing Necas to finish one between Igor Shesterkin's pads to get back within a goal. The one-goal game was expanded back to two a few minutes later, thanks to Artemi Panarin. A shot on a 2-on-1 by Panarin leaked through Frederik Andersen to make it 4-2 in a crushing blow to the Canes' chances.

We've learned that the Hurricanes are never out of a game. With Frederik Andersen on the bench for the extra attacker, Seth Jarvis popped home a loose puck at the side of the net to make it 4-3 with just 1:45 left. To make matters even more intense, the Canes earned a power play with 40 seconds left, only for it to be negated by an Andrei Svechnikov trip six seconds later. The Rangers were able to ice the remainder of the clock, taking the opening game in the best-of-seven series.

The good news is that the Hurricanes know exactly where their game went wrong in Game 1. New York's ability to keep the Canes' power play quiet while capitalizing on their chances with the man advantage is the reason they won the opener. I didn't feel like the Rangers outplayed the Canes by a wide margin, but that one area of the game was heavily skewed in their favor. If they aren't able to improve that aspect of their game, this is going to be a long series for the Hurricanes.

The Hurricanes missed some golden opportunities throughout the game. Brady Skjei and Martin Necas each hit the post in the first period. The power play failed to convert on four full chances. Jordan Staal had two high-danger chances, including the breakaway in the second period. Their lack of conversion, paired with a tough goal allowed by Frederik Andersen in the third period, helped sink the ship. I didn't think Andersen played a bad game, but that's a save you need late in a one-goal game.

If Game 1 was any indication, this is going to be a very chippy series. There were so many scrums and pleasantries exchanged after the whistle that it's only a matter of time before temperatures really boil over. I'm expecting Game 2 to carry the same intensity on Tuesday night. I feel like I've said this a few times this postseason, but it might be worth getting Pyotr Kochetkov a start, though I don't blame Frederik Andersen for the loss.

Game 2 has almost turned into a must-win for the Hurricanes. Coming back to Raleigh for Games 3 and 4 with the series tied puts you in a much more favorable position than a 2-0 deficit. However, it's not going to happen without major improvements from the special teams. Everyone needs to ramp their game up several notches to make sure that happens.