The Carolina Hurricanes haven’t lost a house game on this 12 months’s N.H.L. playoffs, so naturally their success in their very own arena was a most important topic of conversation when the Rangers met with reporters before their flight to North Carolina on Wednesday afternoon.
But contained in all of the discussion about travel, loud fans and tactical line changes got here a crucial message from Mika Zibanejad, the Rangers’ talented, veteran center.
“That is team we’re playing,” he said, “but I can’t stress this enough: We might need shown a bit bit an excessive amount of respect within the regular season.”
A healthy respect for opponent is an integral part to winning. Nevertheless it should be projected with a heavy dose of self-confidence, too. An inordinate amount of respect toward the opposition sometimes results in relatively timid performances. The Rangers lost three of their 4 games against the Hurricanes through the regular season, including a defeat at Madison Square Garden in the ultimate week that eliminated the Rangers from winning the Metropolitan Division. Then they lost the primary two games of their second-round postseason series.
But those two games in Raleigh, N.C., were close and hard-fought — the primary went to additional time — and the Rangers carried a heightened confidence that they might play with the Hurricanes right into a pulsating M.S.G., where they won each games to lock the series at two games apiece. Teams that take a three-games-to-two lead within the Stanley Cup playoffs win the series 79 percent of the time.
“We haven’t played a nasty game yet,” Rangers Coach Gerard Gallant said. “So, I expect us to play game on the road.”
But winning in Raleigh has been elusive up to now, and if that perplexing pattern holds, the Hurricanes will advance to the Stanley Cup finals. With the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Panthers eliminated, Carolina, because the Eastern Conference’s second-best team, has home-ice advantage secured at the least through the conference finals — if it gets that far — and will follow that path throughout the primary three rounds, winning every series in a Game 7 at home.
The Rangers will try to interrupt Carolina’s home hex over visiting teams in Game 5 on Thursday. The Hurricanes are 6-0 at home within the playoffs (0-5 on the road), including 4 first-round wins against the Boston Bruins. In addition they went 29-8-4 within the regular season at home, where ’Canes fans are boisterous and energetic in support of their team.
“It’s loud,” Rangers forward Tyler Motte said on Wednesday before the team flew into hostile territory. “They play rather well down there. They arrive out with energy, as we saw in Game 1 and a couple of. They will play a dynamic style. They can even try to play a physical game, as well. But they simply play rather well in that constructing and we’ve got to match that intensity.”
The Rangers did significantly better of their first two games in Raleigh than the Bruins did of their losses there. Carolina won the 4 games against Boston with a plus-12 goal differential. Against the Rangers, Carolina won two close, defensive games, by scores of 2-1 and 2-0.
The disparity between the performances at home and away for Carolina is noticeable. At home, they appeared to skate and check more vigorously and have a more aggressive approach. On the road, they appeared almost overwhelmed at times.
But there may be one other factor at play besides the raucous crowds, which have played a big role in each arenas on this series, and it’s within the hockey rule book: The house team could make the last line change.
Carolina Coach Rod Brind’Amour prefers to make use of his excellent checking forward line, centered by Jordan Staal with Jesper Fast and Nino Niederreiter on the wings, each time he sees Gallant send out Zibanejad’s line following a stoppage in play.
“We’re pretty sure who we’re going to see tomorrow,” Zibanejad said on Wednesday. “I don’t think that changes. It’s been the regular season and the primary two games there.”
In the primary two games in North Carolina, Zibanejad had no points on 4 shots and Chris Kreider, who scored a career-high 52 goals this season, had no points on one shot. In Recent York, where Gallant was the one waiting to see which Hurricanes line would take the ice first, Zibanejad and Kreider were way more productive. Zibanejad registered two goals and an assist on seven shots. Kreider had a goal and eight shots.
Through the Rangers’ first-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Zibanejad’s line was incessantly opposite the road centered by Sidney Crosby, certainly one of the sport’s best players, and there was concern that Zibanejad was focused on Crosby and didn’t assert himself.
But because the series progressed, Zibanejad got the message from the coaching staff and his teammates that he’s certainly one of the elite centers in the sport and may consider himself in that manner. It culminated in an additional time win in front of a completely pulsating Garden in Game 7, with Zibanejad scoring the goal that drew the Rangers even within the third period.
That goal ignited the Garden to earsplitting levels. But there are occasions when a silent arena is preferable, too.
“Obviously, I would love to listen to a sold-out Garden,” Zibanejad said. “That Game 7 was unbelievable. Nevertheless it’s a fairly good feeling to listen to a quiet away constructing as well.”