RALEIGH — As the Carolina Hurricanes try to eliminate the New York Rangers on Saturday night in Game 6 at Madison Square Garden, they’re downplaying the Stanley Cup playoff trend that makes a Game 7 back in Raleigh feel practically inevitable at this point.
“It’s kind of beating a dead horse about us not winning on the road,” center Vincent Trocheck said.
The Hurricanes’ Game 5 victory Thursday night improved them to 7-0 in Raleigh this postseason. They have a goal differential of plus-17 and a goals-against average of 1.14, having not given up more than two goals in any game against the Boston Bruins or the Rangers in their two playoff series.
The road has been far crueler to Carolina: They’ve gone 0-5, with a minus-13 goal differential and a 4.20 goals-against average.
They’re night and day, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. They’re the Carolina Hurricanes at home and the Hartford Whalers on the road.
The Hurricanes are the first team in NHL history to be involved in 12 straight games in which the home team won every contest to begin the postseason. The previous mark was 11 held by the 1962 Toronto Maple Leafs.
“They’re definitely a better team at home than they have been on the road,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said. “And I can say the same thing for us. I don’t know why that’s going on.”
His counterpart, Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour has opted to de-emphasize that dichotomy.
“It’s such a nonissue. It’s all I hear about,” Brind’Amour said Friday. “We haven’t played poorly on the road. There have been a couple of things that went squirrelly. Every game takes on its own kind of life.”
Yet there are some undeniable differences between the Hurricanes and Rangers at home and on the road in these playoffs:
The Hurricanes have been able to effectively deploy Jordan Staal‘s checking line against the top lines of the Rangers and Bruins at home, shutting them down at 5-on-5. On the road, the Rangers’ Mika Zibanejad doesn’t have a 5-on-5 point against Carolina while registering four shots on goal and five scoring chances in three games. At home, he has a goal and an assist with five shots and four scoring chances in two games.
Carolina’s Antti Raanta has a .965 save percentage and a 0.97 goals-against average at home in seven games, and an .883 save percentage and a 3.59 goals-against average in four road games. The Rangers’ Igor Shesterkin has a .949 save percentage and a 2.05 goals-against average in six home games, and an .881 save percentage and a 3.82 goals-against average on the road (including the team’s first-round matchup with Pittsburgh).
The Hurricanes’ power play is 5-for-26 at home, scoring for the first time this series in Game 5. It’s 1-for-21 on the road, failing to convert while the Hurricanes’ penalty kill gave up a Rangers power-play goal in both road games.
What’s behind this disparity for the Hurricanes?
“It’s the playoffs,” said forward Jordan Martinook, who watched the first four games of the series due to an injury before returning in Game 5. “Everybody talks about how a home crowd can give you a little extra and it’s kind of been proven here. When you’re at home they give you a little bit. When you step out here and they get loud it gives you extra energy. It definitely helps.”
But other Hurricanes players have adopted their coach’s mindset that their road losses haven’t been egregious. “In Game 3, we had a solid enough game and fell short,” Staal said. “As a group, we didn’t play very well in Game 4. We were sloppy. We’re hoping to sharpen the knife again with a better effort.”
The Hurricanes have shown they can control the puck, the tempo and the game defensively when they’re locked in. They just haven’t shown they can do that in New York.
“It’s no different,” Trocheck said. “Same team, same game. It’s just a matter of us being prepared.”
Yet in the backs of their minds, the Hurricanes have to know they have two shots at ending their series and advancing to the Eastern Conference finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Even if the trend holds and they lose to the Rangers in New York, they know the Blueshirts have to steal a game in Raleigh to win the series.
The Rangers squandered a chance in Game 1, allowing a Carolina rally for an overtime loss. But the last two games in Raleigh were firmly in the Hurricanes’ control despite the tight margins of victory.
“We gotta win one game [in Raleigh] to win the series,” Gallant said. “Hopefully that’s Game 7.”