Rangers defeat Hurricanes in Game 7 and face Lightning in Eastern Conference Finals

Nothing can faze these New York Rangers, from being in the multi-game series deficit to playing in a building where no road team has won the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Instead, this resilient squad is carrying an ever-growing confidence straight into the Eastern Conference Finals thanks to another Game 7 win and the recent strong performance of what could be the game’s best goaltender.

Chris Kreider scored twice, Igor Shesterkin was strong again at the net and Rangers ended Carolina’s perfect postseason round at home by beating the Hurricanes 6-2 in the deciding Game 7 of their second round playoff series on Monday night.

Kreider and Adam Fox scored power-play goals in the first half as Rangers quickly took the lead. The Rangers then rode Shesterkin’s final offensive performance to earn a fifth straight elimination game win in that playoff.

“We’ve had our backs against the wall five times now,” Fox said, “and we’ve been through all five.”

Shesterkin β€” a finalist for both the Vezina Trophy for Best Goalie in the League and the Hart Trophy for Most Valuable Player β€” finished with 36 saves and carried the shutout well into the third period.

Rangers’ Igor Shesterkin makes a save against Hurricanes’ Jordan Martinook in the third half. (Jared C Tilton/Getty Images)

Now the Rangers are in a conference finals for the first time since 2015 and meet two-time Stanley Cup champions Tampa Bay. New York will host Game 1 of this series Wednesday night, beginning at 8 p.m. ET on, the CBC Sports App and CBC Gem.

Ryan Strome and Filip Chytil also scored in an unexpected loss, with Andrew Copp adding a late empty net. Even more impressive was the Rangers’ victory in an arena where the Hurricanes lost 7-0 in the playoffs, including a Game 7 win over Boston in the first round and three meetings in that series.

New York coach Gerard Gallant said Sunday he has a group of players who are “having a lot of fun and believing in themselves”. They looked like they’d do both aplenty on Monday to earn a second straight comeback win from a multigame deficit.

First, they rallied from a 3-1 deficit to beat Pittsburgh in a seven-game series. Then, after New York fell to Carolina in a 2-0 hole, they responded with more resilience, even a stubborn refusal to fade when down.

Kreider went so far as to throw in a comparison to “cockroaches”.

“We’re not going away, no matter what the score is, no matter where our game is,” said Kreider.

There were no questions this Monday night, especially as Shesterkin held up against 17 shots from the first period. That included a stop from flat on his back on Sebastian Aho near the right post, with Shesterkin holding the puck between his legs and thrashing about like he was trying to make a snow angel late in the first period.

Rangers also helped by blocking 25 shots in front of him.

“You have to pay a price to win games in this league, especially against really good teams like these,” said Gallant. “I love the way our guys compete and fight. I’ve said 100 times this year, we’re not perfect but we find ways to win.”

Tony DeAngelo eventually defeated Shesterkin midway through the third period only to watch Rangers follow suit just 40 seconds later with Chytil’s goal to increase the lead to 5-1.

Max Domi also scored a late goal for the Hurricanes.

Hurricanes lose Raanta, Jarvis

But Carolina lost top rookie forward Seth Jarvis to injury in the first third after a concussive strike from Jacob Trouba and then lost goaltender Antti Raanta to an apparent right leg injury in the second third on an all-around tough night. Raanta made 16 saves before his injury while rookie Pyotr Kochetkov allowed three goals on 12 shots from relief.

“There were just a couple of shots tonight, everyone wasn’t quite there, including me,” said Carolina captain Jordan Staal. “An unfortunate way to end the series – season.”

Carolina’s playoff success relied on their home field advantage on the ice, aided by a rampaging crowd. But his inability to win a single away game in the postseason only shrank the Hurricanes’ error rate and made a home win an absolute necessity to continue playing.

As a result, the first and only home stumble proved fatal, a crushing end to a season in which the division winner with the third-best record in the NHL had franchise records for regular-season wins (54) and points (116) with aspirations of his second trophy to win.

“It’s definitely a shame to have the team β€” the caliber of team β€” that we had,” said Carolina defenseman Jaccob Slavin, “and not go further.”

Jarvis was knocked out of play by Trouba’s hit, knocking him onto the ice and only allowing him to crawl back onto the bench. When he got there he was too shaky to sit on the bench and needed help from teammates to be led to the dressing room.

To make matters worse, the Hurricanes took a penalty for too many men on the ice when trying to substitute Jarvis, resulting in Kreider’s first goal.

Ranta went down 4:23 left in the second half as he extended his right leg in the splits to stop Mika Zibanejad. He almost went forward and landed face down on the ice. He was eventually helped off the ice by teammates Vincent Trocheck and Nino Niederreiter without putting weight on his right leg.

Afterwards, coach Rod Brind’Amour said Raanta’s injury would have prevented him from playing the next series if Carolina had won.

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