Brett Pesce out, Evgeny Kuznetsov possible when Hurricanes try to answer Rangers in Game 3

NHL: New York Rangers at Carolina Hurricanes
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

With the New York Rangers taking Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Second Round in double overtime and, with that, a 2-0 lead, in the best-of-7 series, the Carolina Hurricanes have been sent home looking for answers.

The Hurricanes host the Rangers in a pivotal Game 3 down in Raleigh on Thursday. If the Rangers win, they will have a stranglehold on the series. If the Hurricanes win, they will hold serve with the home team taking each game.

It appears that the Hurricanes will remain without defenseman Brett Pesce. Coach Rod Brind’Amour confirmed Wednesday that Pesce has not resumed skating since exiting Game 2 of their first-round series against the New York Islanders with a lower-body injury.

There were reports at the end of that series, which lasted five games, that Pesce was out of a walking boot and Carolina general manager Don Waddell said there was hope he could return at some point in the Rangers series.

Pesce has been missed against the Rangers, particularly on the penalty kill, where he is a standout performer. The Rangers have scored four power-play goals in the second-round series, including the tying and winning goals in Game 2.

Related: How Rangers aced their first real test in 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Evgeny Kuznetsov could return for Hurricanes against Rangers in Game 3

NHL: New York Rangers at Carolina Hurricanes
Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Brind’Amour indicated that veteran center Evgeny Kuznetsov could slot back into the Carolina lineup for Game 3. The Hurricanes coach said that he wanted to “change it up a little” in Game 2, so he scratched the 2018 Stanley Cup champion.

Kuznetsov, who has four points (two goals, two assists) in six playoff games. He took an undisciplined cross-checking penalty against Adam Fox late in the first period of Game 1, and 14 seconds later Vincent Trocheck scored a power-play goal to make it 3-1 Rangers. New York won that game 4-3 and Kuznetsov appeared to be benched for most of the third period during Carolina’s attempted comeback.

Max Comtois made his NHL postseason debut, taking Kuznetsov’s place in Game 2. The 25-year-old only saw 6:19 in ice time despite the game going to double OT. He was minus-1 with no shots on goal.

If the Hurricanes want to avoid a 3-0 deficit, they are going to need to figure out more than just personnel decisions. The special-teams battle has been the story of this series through two games, and the Rangers are winning on both sides.

The Rangers have killed off all 10 of the Hurricanes’ power plays in the series, including five in Game 2.

“We have to definitely be sharper,” Brind’Amour explained. “We have to get in the inside. We’re on the outside, and that’s just not how we do it anyway. We have to get back to doing it the way we know how to.”

New York, on the other hand, is 4-for-9 on the power play through the first two games of this series, and Trocheck netted the Game 2 overtime winner on the power play.

“We have to buckle down on the power play,” said Jake Guentzel. “We have to find a way to get one there. So, go home, play in front of our fans, and move on.”

The next two games in Carolina will be very telling about the direction this series will head. PNC Arena is a very difficult place to succeed in for the road team. The Hurricanes won all three of their home games against the Islanders in Round 1 and posted a record of 27-10-4 at home in the regular season.

If New York can find a way to take even one game on the road, they will have a great chance at locking up the series sooner than many predicted.

For Carolina, it will rely on the home crowd and continue to make adjustments, trying to solve New York, which remains undefeated (6-0) in these playoffs.

Dane Walsh is a life-long fan of the New York Rangers. Growing up in the tri-state area, Dane has... More about Dane Walsh

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