The Carolina Hurricanes aren’t backing down

The good ol’ hockey game is beautiful – it’s also wildly random and unpredictable.

Why is it so hard for a team with a 3-1 series lead to finish it off on home ice in Game 5? That’s what the New York Rangers are trying to figure out against the Carolina Hurricanes.

“There’s a lot of pressure on both sides when you’re fighting for your life – it could be one mistake that could be the difference to end the season,” Hurricanes captain Jordan Staal said minutes after his team won its second consecutive game. “Game 5s are tough, especially when you’re at home. You don’t want to go back on the road and you want to close it out, but we gave it all we got and we found a way to win.”

Often, it feels like hockey is the only sport in which the team with the 3-1 series lead actually has more pressure than the team that’s down. The Rangers were 20 minutes away from advancing to the Eastern Conference final as they carried a 1-0 lead into the final frame of Game 5.

The Carolina Hurricanes aren’t backing down

So what went wrong?

“I don’t think we were sharp. You mentioned the third [period], I thought it went deeper than that. It was off,” Rangers coach Peter Laviolette said.

One thing that was noticeably off was the Rangers’ power play, which has now gone scoreless in three straight games in this series. The team’s top unit had difficulty getting in the zone and setting up possession.

“The power-play goals that we’ve gotten have been broken plays. We gotta move things quick, do things quick – they’re aggressive in what they do,” Laviolette added.

So often in the playoffs, the Rangers have gotten big performances from their most important players when it matters the most. But after scoring the overtime-winning goal in Game 3, Artemi Panarin has gone relatively quiet, with just two shots on goal over the past two games. That’s not what you’re looking for with a chance to advance on the line

On Monday night, the Rangers needed someone to step up. It appeared to be their captain, Jacob Trouba, who made one hell of an individual play on the penalty kill for his first goal of the playoffs, which opened up the scoring in Game 5. That goal felt like poetic justice after Trouba had been on the ice for seven straight goals against.

But after the Rangers captain took charge, Staal had his own rebuttal. He scored his first goal of the playoffs at the 3:33 mark of the third period, which knotted the game at 1-1 and took the life out of Madison Square Garden.

“There were a lot of guys telling me I was gonna score,” Staal said with a laugh. “Playoffs are tough, it’s hard mentally. It’s ups and downs. There are times you have to battle through stuff that’s not going your way and stay with the consistency of your game.”

Even when Carolina went down 3-0 in this series, they felt they were playing well enough to win games. They had the belief, but now that the results are there, that belief grows exponentially.

“We’re just pumped for each other. We just need to enjoy the moment, enjoy the boost that a win gives you, but we’ve got to regroup and give everything we’ve got in Game 6,” Jordan Martinook said.

The Hurricanes have all of the momentum riding in their favor right now, but the Rangers are fully aware of the situation and don’t seem too phased by Monday night’s loss.

Hurricanes score 4 in third period, rally to beat Rangers 4-1 in Game 5 to avoid elimination

“If you had told me we’d be 3-2 against the second-best team in the league with an opportunity to close it out, it’s a pretty good spot to be in,” Chris Kreider said. “So, just go down there and be better, be more detailed, work for each other, and find a way to win a game.”

So many felt this series would go at least six or seven games. But nobody saw it coming this way.

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