New York Rangers set to clash with Carolina Hurricanes for first place
The Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers don’t have to look far for a late-season showdown.
It arrives with Tuesday night’s meeting in New York.
The Hurricanes have won just two of their last five games, but Sunday’s 5-2 victory against the Anaheim Ducks could catapult them to better things.
“We haven’t had our best hockey as of late,” Carolina defenseman Jaccob Slavin said. “Hopefully we can keep that momentum going and take advantage of it.”
The Rangers have been off since Saturday, when they stretched their winning streak to three games. They’ve outscored their opponents by a combined 11-2 in those games.
New York Rangers impressive this season
“I feel like this has snuck up on us a little bit,” Rangers center Ryan Strome said. “You reach the 100-point mark and you clinch a playoff spot. It’s just a good feeling. I think we’ve come a long way as a group.”
Carolina (47-18-8, 102 points) and New York (47-20-6, 100 points) split their first two meetings this season.
The top two teams in the Metropolitan Division already have secured a spot in the playoffs, though now it’s a matter of sorting out the order of finish. Both have played 73 games.
“Now the fun stuff starts and the work begins,” Strome said. “I just think we’ve been focused every day.”
Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said the team has been winning the right way.
“We’ve won games a lot of different ways this year,” Gallant said. “We’ve felt good about that. They stuck together. Again, it’s not over yet. We’ve got nine big games to play and finish as high as we can.”
Rangers looking for best possible playoff position
The importance of the Hurricanes-Rangers game can’t be understated. To Gallant, the first objective was to qualify for the playoffs and next on the to-do list is to be in position for as many series with home-ice advantage as possible.
“It should be two teams ready to play for first place, “Gallant said. “I think for with 9 games remaining there’s something to look forward to and it’s a battle.”
“We’re still battling for our position in second-place. So you have to keep winning games.”
That message has been received by the Rangers players.
“Now it’s about building our game, trying to secure home ice,” New York left winger Chris Kreider said. “The whole year, the whole team has played incredibly well.”
The Rangers are 7-1-1 in their last nine games.
Rangers Injury Report
Monday at practice, Filip Chytil skated with the extras on a fifth line.
“Chytil skated today,” Gallant said. “The trainer will tell me this (later), but he looked fine out there.”
The coach also noted that anyone who was banged up would certainly get a rest so it’s likely that we will see the same lineup from Saturday against the Canes.
That means another third d-pairing of Justin Braun with Braden Schneider.
Patrik Nemeth, who normally plays with Schneider missed the last game due to personal reasons and remains out. He did not participate at practice.
The team wanted to make clear there was no residual issues with COVID as was the case the last time he was out.
Hurricanes trying to get back on track
Carolina captain Jordan Staal notched his first hat trick in nearly a decade Sunday night. It’s part of a late-season surge in which he has racked up 11 goals across the last 29 games.
“I just try to play my game,” Staal said. “That’s being reliable, being strong at both ends. When the puck starts to go in, it always feels good.”
Hurricanes right winger Andrei Svechnikov has a team-high 20 multi-point games this season. He has career highs for goals (28) and points (64).
Staal wants the Hurricanes to maintain their general approach. They’ve racked up 32 or more shots on goal in five of their last six games.
“Just play that solid game that everyone needs to play to help us win,” Staal said.
Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour holds a 167-84-28 regular-season record, matching his former coach, Peter Laviolette, for the second-most wins in franchise history.
The teams meet again April 26 in Carolina’s regular-season home finale.
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–Field Level Media contributed to this report