But against the Carolina Hurricanes, the best penalty-killing team in the NHL, they’re experiencing a power outage that cost them in Game 2 on Friday night and has them in an 0-2 hole in the series.
The Rangers’ power play went 0-for-4 and surrendered the game-winning shorthanded goal to Carolina defenseman Brendan Smith in their 2-0 loss.
“Their power play is so good. Obviously, that was the difference in the game tonight,” said Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour. “Don’t want to be in that position, taking penalties against them, but it’s going to happen. The guys did a great job tonight.”
Goalie Antti Raanta made 21 saves for the shutout. The Hurricanes, who had the best penalty kill in the regular season, have killed 16 of 17 power plays at home in the playoffs.
“A coach’s dream is a 1-0 or 2-0 win. There wasn’t a lot both ways,” said Smith. “That’s a good playoff game. The fans won’t like it as much, but for us in the room, it’s a lot better.”
The Rangers had two first-period power plays and then four minutes with the man advantage in the second period when Carolina defenseman Brady Skjei clipped Alexis Lafrenière with his stick. But instead of converting, New York surrendered a shorthanded goal to Smith with 4:06 left in the period on a feed from Sebastian Aho.
“I saw Smitty going hard to that back post. It was more of an area pass, I would say. Glad that it worked out,” said Aho. “Great read by him. Huge goal.”
The Hurricanes arguably created as much offense shorthanded as the Rangers did with their power play in Game 2.
“They’re just random plays. I’m not there to score a goal. I’m there to kill a penalty,” said Aho. “For some reason today, I got some loose pucks here and there. If I can meet the puck, be the first on, then it’s a green light to go.”
The Rangers entered the series having gone 6-for-19 against the Penguins in the opening round. Despite having the 5th-fewest power-play opportunities in the regular season, the Rangers were fourth in power-play conversion at 25.2%. Against the Hurricanes, they’re 0-for-5 in two losses.
“We didn’t take advantage of our power plays tonight. We haven’t said that too often this year. That’s the tough part of it,” said Rangers coach Gerard Gallant.
What’s the issue with the power play?
“I’m seeing a great penalty kill put a lot of pressure on [us],” said Gallant. “We didn’t find the inside man very often in the slot, you know, the bumper guy. They put a lot of pressure and we just didn’t adjust quick enough. Got to compete a little harder.”
The failures on the power play are one reason why the Rangers’ top players have yet to hit the score sheet in this series. Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider and Adam Fox — the team’s leading regular-season scorers — haven’t produced a point against Carolina. Panarin and Kreider didn’t register a shot in Game 2.
“Our battle level is high. They’re great players. We took their time and space. I think that’s the big thing,” said Smith. “There are a lot of times when [Panarin] tries to create his space, but if you stay with him, try to take that space away from him, he can’t make those elite plays.”
The action, such as it was in Game 2, shifts to Madison Square Garden for Game 3 on Sunday afternoon.
The good news for the Rangers, potentially: The Hurricanes controlled play in the first two games at home against Boston in the first round but ended up losing every game on the road. They were the best defensive team on home ice during the regular season and were fifth on the road.
“We gotta go back home and take care of Sunday afternoon’s game,” said Gallant. “Play well. Play hard. We’ll find a way to get another win.”