Chris Kreider’s hat trick helps Rangers oust Hurricanes with incredible Game 6 win

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

In one of the most incredible comebacks in franchise history, the New York Rangers scored four unanswered goals in the third period to defeat the Carolina Hurricanes 5-3 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Second Round, winning the best-of-7 series 4-2.

Chris Kreider scored a natural hat trick for the Rangers in the final period, an incredible clutch performance reminiscent of Mark Messier’s hat trick that helped the Blueshirts rally past the New Jersey Devils in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final in 1994.

Coincidentally, that was the last time the Rangers won a road game in the playoffs when trailing entering the third period. Until Thursday night in Raleigh, that is.

Kreider got the Rangers to within 3-2 early in the third, then scored the tying and winning goals before Barclay Goodrow’s empty-netter finished off the Hurricanes, who threw a huge scare into the Blueshirts.

“He took over the game,” Rangers captain Jacob Trouba said. “He’s shown the ability to do that at times. … A lot of guys call him ‘the horse’ and that’s what he is.”

The Hurricanes had leads of 2-0 and 3-1, and hit iron behind Igor Shesterkin three times, twice in the third period. But Shesterkin made some huge stops in the final period and finished with 33 saves.

“We’re playing the best team in the League,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour offered postgame.

Vincent Trocheck had a goal and an assist for the Rangers, who had lost the previous two games after racing to a 3-0 lead in the series. Both Artemi Panarin and Jack Roslovic had two assists.

Frederik Andersen made 20 saves for the Hurricanes. Sebastian Aho had a goal and an assist, and Martin Necas and Seth Jarvis also scored goals.

“This was a special one,” Mika Zibanejad said. “We weren’t happy with our performance in Game 5. To come to Carolina and respond the way that we did even though we go down. We tried to battle back and this one is definitely special.”

Related: Did Jacob Trouba guarantee Rangers victory in Game 6?

New York Rangers 5 – Carolina Hurricanes 3

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

The Rangers showed more jump from the opening face-off than they did in their Game 5 loss at home, but still exited the first period trailing 1-0. Part of the issue was that with their extended zone time during several stretches of the opening period, the Rangers couldn’t generate shots on goal nor scoring chances.

They did, though, defend better and largely kept the Hurricanes to the outside, with most of their eight shots in the first period from long distance and with little traffic in front of Shesterkin.

But the relentless Hurricanes forecheck did lead to the game’s first goal. Jordan Martinook zipped a quick pass from behind the goal line which Necas roofed over Shesterkin’s glove at 18:38 to make it 1-0.

Held to three shots on goal in the first, the Rangers got an early chance to get untracked offensively in the second period when Martinook was assessed the game’s first penalty, a high-sticking minor at 2:04. Not only did the Rangers fail to score, but the power-play ended early when Kreider was whistled for cross-checking at 2:47.

To make matters worse, Carolina scored on its abbreviated power play to make it 2-0. Jarvis slipped behind Mika Zibanejad and punched a loose puck over the goal for his fifth goal of the playoffs at 4:38, only Carolina’s second power-play goal of the series.

However, the Rangers answered right back, cutting their deficit in half at 5:29 when they took advantage of Andersen having trouble with his footing in his crease. Trocheck tipped a quick release by Panarin into the cage for his sixth playoff goal, quieting the raucous PNC Arena crowd momentarily.

Delirium returned in Raleigh when Aho scored his fourth postseason goal on a partial breakaway, beating Shesterkin up high over the glove at 9:23 to make it 3-1 Carolina. K’Andre Miller got caught up ice allowing Andrei Svechnikov to make a perfect outlet pass to spring Aho.

The biggest play the Hurricanes made in the second period was not a goal, though. Several minutes after Aho’s goal, Kreider sent Ryan Lindgren in on a clean breakaway with a slick feed. The Rangers defenseman sent a shot that leaked through Andersen, the puck rolling toward the goal line. Out of nowhere, Martinook dived and swatted the puck off the goal line before it could fully cross, a simply incredible individual effort to keep the score 3-1.

The teams then traded excellent scoring chances before the period ended. Jarvis rifled a right-wing shot off the post, and Panarin was denied on a breakaway from behind by hustling Hurricanes defenseman Jalen Chatfield.

Early in the third period, Martinook beat Shesterkin clean with a bomb of a slap shot, but the puck hammered off the crossbar and over the glass. Two minutes later, Jake Guentzel beat Shesterkin again with a left-wing wrist shot that hit the post.

Those near misses proved huge when Kreider banged in a loose puck at Andersen’s feet after Zibanejad threw the puck at the goalie from behind the goal line. Kreider was just getting going.

The Hurricanes had a prime chance to restore their two-goal lead at 8:48 but Aho missed the net badly on a breakaway after two Rangers ran into each other and fell down on the play. Shesterkin then made a massive save to smother a shot from a wide-open Jordan Staal in the low slot at 10:12.

Staal was whistled for cross-checking at 10:58 and the Rangers took advantage, scoring their first power-play goal since Game 2 to tie the game 3-3. Alone in front, Kreider deflected a Panarin shot past Andersen at 11:54 to even things up.

Kreider completed his incredible third-period natural hat trick at 15:41 to make it 4-3 when he converted a Lindgren feed after a long dominant shift in the offensive zone by the Rangers.

Then it was Shesterkin’s turn to play hero with 2:39 left to play and Andersen pulled for the extra attacker. Shesterkin absolutely robbed a wide-open Svechnikov with an incredible blocker save to keep it 4-3.

Goodrow iced the amazing comeback win and series victory with a long empty-net goal at 19:11.

“Before the third period, [Kreider] said ‘I know I’m going to get one here,’ and he goes out and gets three,” Goodrow marveled. “He’s clutch and comes up big every time.”

The Rangers advanced to the Eastern Conference Final for the second time in three seasons, and fifth time since 2012. They will play the winner of the Florida Panthers-Boston Bruins series, which Florida leads 3-2. Game 6 is in Boston on Friday.

Jim Cerny is Executive Editor at Forever Blueshirts and Managing Editor at Sportsnaut, with more than 30 years of... More about Jim Cerny

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