Rangers still have to break Hurricanes’ home ice dominance

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A distinct home-ice advantage often is a misnomer in the Stanley Cup playoffs, as a red-hot goaltender or impactful special teams often can negate any hometown edge.

Having evened their best-of-seven series against the Hurricanes with two straight wins at the Garden, the Rangers must win one of two potential games on the road in order to advance to the Eastern Conference final for the first time since 2015. The first opportunity will come Thursday night in Raleigh, N.C., in Game 5.

Carolina already has already entered the record books during this postseason with a 6-0 record at PNC Arena and five straight losses on the road to become just the second team in NHL history — joining the 1962 Maple Leafs — to have its first 11 playoff games won by the home team.

“I think you know me by now, it doesn’t matter what’s happened in the past, it’s what you’re gonna do going forward,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said on a non-practice Wednesday in Tarrytown. “We played them two real good games in their building last week.

“We didn’t come out with a win, but we played two good hockey games. Gotta keep working, keep playing, and it’s gonna be a big Game 5 in their building.”

Kaapo Kaako celebrates a Rangers goal in Game 1 in Carolina.
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The Hurricanes now are 35-8-4 this season on home ice, including a plus-15 goal differential in their half-dozen playoff games in Raleigh. They outscored the Bruins 15-4 in their first three home games in the opening round before pulling out a 3-2 decision in a tightly contested Game 7.

The Rangers played them much tighter over the first two games of Round 2, falling 2-1 in overtime after leading for much of Game 1, before dropping a 2-0 decision (including a last-second empty-netter) in Game 2.

“I thought we were right there,” center Mika Zibanejad said. “It’s obviously a really good team. They won our division and they’ve been good at home all year.

“I don’t think it was much different [in New York], maybe [the play] opened up a little bit more in the two games at home. But other than that it’s been tight games and we as a group felt like we could’ve won at least one of them.”

The Rangers have recent history to fall back on. They overcame a 3-1 hole in the opening round against the Penguins, winning Game 6 in Pittsburgh before closing out the series in Game 7 before a raucous Garden crowd.

Rangers
Igor Shesterkin and the Rangers has lost both game in Carolina this series.
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“Obviously, I would like to hear a sold-out Garden, like, that Game 7 was unbelievable. But it’s a pretty good feeling to hear a quiet away building, as well,” Zibanejad said. “We’re just worried about this game ahead of us, and trying to do everything we can to win.”

Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour will able to dictate favorable matchups with the last change at home, which Zibanejad knows will likely mean his line alongside Chris Kreider seeing plenty of Jordan Staal’s checking line with wingers Nino Niederreiter and former Ranger Jesper Fast.

“We just gotta do the job. It’s a fun challenge,” Zibanejad said. “They’ve done a good job for them all year and the past couple of years. Not worried about it too much. … It comes down to what you do and what you can control. I don’t think it matters who’s on the ice against you.”

For the Hurricanes, location has mattered far more than their opponent to this point, but as Brind’Amour said Wednesday: “I don’t think other than it’s playing out the same way, there’s not a lot you can look back on and go, ‘Oh, this is carrying over,’ or whatever. There’s two good teams going at it and it’s tight. We’re 2-2. I think we’ve played pretty well on the road, in actuality. Obviously we’ve got to find a way to get a win and it’s not a road game, the next one. So I’m not worrying about the road right now.”

Of course, the first win by an away team in the series Wednesday night would give Igor Shesterkin and the Blueshirts the opportunity to advance Saturday night in Game 6 at the Garden.

“We haven’t played a bad game yet,” Gallant said, “so I expect us to play a good game on the road.”

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