In game 3 of the NHL play-in round between the Carolina Hurricanes and the New York Rangers, some big changes were made with the story of the night being James Reimer, showing just why he was picked to start.
In an attempt to stop the bleeding of goals against, the Rangers put in Igor Shesterkin who had yet to be fully cleared after an injury that left him out of selection for the Rangers’ first two games. In a heavily disputed decision, the Hurricanes also changed their backstop between the pipes, putting Reimer in for a chance as the starter.
The puck dropped on the game’s first period with tensions running high as the Rangers needed to win this game to prevent a potential sweep. The Rangers came into the offensive zone with a ferocity that had yet to be seen by them in this series. They continually pushed play that saw great saves by Reimer and an even better defensive effort by Sami Vatanen which saw a shot block from an attempted wrap around play. Shortly after this, however, Vatanen took the first penalty of the night, hooking a player while attempting to stop the offensive play.
The power play by the Rangers showed good pressure, but did not result in any goals. Shesterkin showed exactly why he was chosen, saving a hard shot from Jake Gardiner and making it look as though it was nothing. With Carolina making more offensive pushes in the late half of the second period, Rangers’ centreman Filip Chytil took the second penalty of the night for tripping. The power play saw some good passing from the Hurricanes, but even better defensive positioning by the Rangers as they blocked passing lanes and pressed players, preventing a number of opportunities.
Finally getting into the gritty action of the game, Brendan Smith made a booming hit on Andrei Svechnikov that would see the fighting in the game begin. Smith made this hit after having broken his stick while attempting a slapshot. The defensemen had yet to get a new stick before laying a hit that would see Svechnikov fall to the ice while landing on his back side. The player persevered, got right back up and back into play for the end of the first period.
The puck dropped on the second and was won by Ryan Strome for the Rangers. In a show of speed, Chris Kreider took a pass from Jacob Trouba and broke into the Hurricanes defensive end, letting off a quick shot that scored the first goal of the game. His goal was one of the fastest seen in the game, being scored 12 seconds into the second period. This marked the first time in the series that the Rangers had opened the scoring against the Hurricanes and lifted the confidence of the Rangers team greatly.
In a sign that the beef from the first period was yet to be handled, Svechnikov returned the favour to Smith, laying a booming hit on the player to even the score between the two. This hit raised the morale of the Hurricanes as they made an offensive push. After a broken stick from Rangers defensemen Marc Staal, Teuvo Teravainen scored the Hurricanes first goal of the game. The goal came after a passing play starting from Haydn Fleury and being fed into Svechnikov who saw the open space and laid the pass to Teravainen to score his first of the playoffs. The score was level and there was plenty of time left to play in the game.
Reimer continued to show great form as he blocked shot after shot from the Rangers, eventually freezing the puck. Right after the freeze, some scrums broke out behind the goalie with Gardiner being sent to the penalty box for roughing while the other players were just warned as they hadn’t gotten as far into the situation. While on the penalty kill, Carolina made a surprising rush through to the Rangers offensive zone that saw Shesterkin make a powerful save from a two-on-one opportunity.
Once the penalty was clear, the Staal brothers made sure to show that they are still rivals with a dust up between the two in a pause in play. Neither player saw a penalty, however, Smith was awarded a penalty for interference. During the power play, neither team was able to show any dominance and the two minutes washed away quickly.
In the final minutes of the second period, the Rangers skated down the ice with the puck and laid shot after shot on the Hurricanes net with Reimer stopping the first few before going down. He was luckily saved by defensemen Sami Vatanen who made a stunning save off of his shoulder to keep the score level at 1-1 after 40.
Period three came around, and after a string of frustration between the two going back and forth between ends of the ice, the Hurricanes made it into the offensive end where Shesterkin had lost his stick. This was happening for the second time on the night and the goalie was not saved by any of his teammates as they did not hand him a stick to try and block shots with, leaving him to have to make a save with his stick hand. After the face-off, the reeling Hurricanes scored the third goal of the night with Warren Foegle redirecting a shot from Brady Skjei to score past Shesterkin. Skjei had his shot fed at the blue line from Martin Necas, getting him the second assist on the play.
With the Rangers starting to slip in discipline, Kreider, who had earlier scored the only goal for the Rangers, was send to the box for hooking. As tended to be the story of the night, neither team appeared dominant with their special teams units on the ice, with the Rangers icing the puck whenever they recovered it and the Hurricanes not being able to make many dominant plays. After this, Sebastian Aho took matters into his own hands, taking the puck off of the first defensemen for the Rangers and quickly decking through the legs of the second.
Aho flicked the puck to the top corner to net the insurance goal for the Carolina Hurricanes. With more than half the period gone, the fate of this game seemed secure.
The Rangers never gave up hope, pulling their goalie with just over two minutes remaining. This would seem even better for the team as Hurricanes captain Jordan Staal was sent to the penalty box for hooking, giving the Rangers a six-on-four man advantage. The confidence would be their downfall, however, as Sebastian Aho sped down the ice with the puck to net his second of the night with no goalie there to stop him. This put the Hurricanes out of reach with a three goal difference and only seconds remaining. With the game siren sounding, the Hurricanes had completed the sweep of the Rangers.
The stars on the night could truly be seen with Reimer doing a great job in goal, showing that even in his old age, he still has what it takes to be in the starting goalie position. Vatanen was another star through his daring save and recoveries defensively. The defensemen has truly settled in, getting comfortable quickly with his teammates and coaching staff.
The final star of the game could never be in doubt as Sebastian Aho scored two goals to cement the 4-1 victory for the Hurricanes. It was clear to see how much of a threat the defensemen could be, helping lead to the victory. This was seen both offensively and defensively after stripping the puck from the New York Rangers to generate his first of two goals on the night.