By VIN A. CHERWOO
AP Sports Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Rangers got off to a strong start and didn’t need a comeback to win another elimination game.
One more like this and they’ll be heading to the Eastern Conference finals.
Igor Shesterkin stopped 37 shots and became the fifth goalie in NHL history to have two assists in a playoff game, and the Rangers beat the Carolina Hurricanes 5-2 on Saturday night to force a deciding Game 7 in their second-round series.
“He made some real key saves for us,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said. “Obviously the two assists are huge, but I think he was trying to get three there in the third when he passed it up the middle. He’s outstanding. He’s been like that all year for us.”
Tyler Motte and Mika Zibanejad scored in the first period, Filip Chytil had two goals in the second, and Artemi Panarin tallied in the third period to help New York win its fourth straight elimination game, including Games 5, 6, and 7 in the first round against Pittsburgh. They had to rally from a deficit in each of those games.
The Rangers also set a franchise record with their sixth straight home win since a three-OT defeat to the Penguins in Game 1 of that series.
“Didn’t surprise me,” Gallant said. “I knew we’d come out hard and play well. … We jumped on them early, got a couple of goals and that was key.”
Game 7 is back in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Monday night. The winner will open the Eastern Conference finals at home against Tampa Bay on Wednesday night.
Shesterkin had assists on Zibanejad’s first-period goal and Chytil’s second of the second period to give him three assists in 13 postseason games.
“Tonight was definitely an important game,” Shesterkin said through a translator. “We had to win and that’s exactly what we did. About the two assists, honestly, I think it was mostly the guys that did all the work. I just got them the puck and they delivered.”
Brady Skjei had a goal and an assist, and Vincent Trochek also scored for the Hurricanes. Carolina fell to 0-6 on the road this postseason, becoming the first team in NHL history to lose its first six road games in a postseason.
Antti Raanta was pulled after giving up three goals on 13 shots. Pyotr Kochetkov came on and finished with 10 saves.
There’s one positive for the Hurricanes — and perhaps a bad omen for the Rangers — with Game 7 in Carolina: They’re 7-0 at home in these playoffs.
“We came out pretty raw again,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “We got behind again and that’s where it got tough. … It’s behind us now, we turn the page. The good news is we don’t have to end on that. We have another shot here.”
The Rangers’ win in Game 6 against the Penguins is their only road victory of the postseason, and they’ve been outscored in the three losses at Carolina in this series by a 7-2 margin. That’s a stark contrast to their 12-4 advantage in the three wins at home.
“We have to play how we play at home,” Chytil said. “We found a way to win in Pittsburgh. So, it’s a Game 7 now, so we have to find a way to win the game. … We have to play hard, we have to play our game and don’t focus on any other thing. Just focus on the game and I think we can win the game.”
Leading 4-2, the Rangers had a 5-on-3 power play for nearly a minute early in the third period. Panarin made it 5-2 as he scored from between the circles at 7:43. It was his fourth of the postseason and first since the series winner in overtime of Game 7 of the first round against Pittsburgh.
The Rangers led 2-0 after 20 minutes and added to it early in the second period. Chytil got the puck from Fox, skated up the right side and beat Raanta from the right circle. It ended Raanta’s night as he was replaced by Kochetkov.
Skjei fired a shot past Shesterkin for his fifth career playoff goal and first this year to get the Hurricanes on the scoreboard at 5:05. It came on Carolina’s 18th shot.
Chytil got his second of the night and fourth of the postseason on a backhander past Kochetkov through traffic from the left circle at 6:47 to restore the Rangers’ three-goal lead.
Trochek scored on a rebound in front with 7:13 left in the middle period to pull Carolina to 4-2.
Shesterkin denied Sebastian Aho on a breakaway 7:05 into the game, and then stopped follow shots by Teuvo Teravainen and Aho seconds later to keep the Hurricanes off the scoreboard.
At the other end, Motte gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead as he brought the puck up the ice, skated in and beat Raanta from the left circle at 7:22 for his second of the playoffs — and this series.
Zibanejad extended the Rangers’ lead to 2-0 just shy of the midpoint of the period. He got a pass from Adam Fox, brought the puck across the blue line, deked one defender out of the way, skated in and fired a shot from the right circle through Raanta’s five-hole at 9:51 for his seventh of the postseason.
It gave the Rangers a power-play goal for the fourth straight game, accomplishing the feat in the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
F Barclay Goodrow returned to the Rangers lineup for the first time since Game 1 of the first round series against Pittsburgh. He was out with a lower body injury. Kevin Rooney was scratched to make room for Goodrow on the fourth line.
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