NEW YORK — Carolina, here they come.
The never-say-die Rangers have proved their mettle at every turn, as they did yet again with a 5-2 Game 6 win over the Carolina Hurricanes at Madison Square Garden on Saturday to extend their second-round playoff series.
A winner-takes-all Game 7 will be played Monday in Raleigh, North Carolina.
These Rangers are now 4-0 in elimination games, with a resiliency that belies their youth and inexperience. They’ll have to overcome a Canes team that is 7-0 at PNC Arena this postseason and played their best game of the series in the Game 5 on home ice.
The odds are certainly stacked against the Rangers. But given what we’ve seen from the bounce-back Blueshirts – who have responded to each and every challenge that’s been presented thus far – betting against them would not be a comfortable wager.
A wide-open affair
Both teams came out flying Saturday, trading chances in a wide-open contest that looked nothing like the slog that was Game 5.
The Rangers went from one goal on 17 shots Thursday to dropping a five-spot with their season on the line.
A back-and-forth sequence led to the first goal of the game at the 7:22 mark of the first period.
Barclay Goodrow, who made a surprise return to the lineup after suffering what was believed to be a broken left ankle on May 3, had a shot saved by Hurricanes goalie Antti Raanta, with the rebound swatted out of the air by Jaccob Slavin and pushed ahead to Sebastian Aho. That led to a breakaway opportunity that was saved by Igor Shesterkin, which sent the Rangers off to the races again.
This time it was Tyler Motte with the puck, who finished to give the Blueshirts a 1-0 lead.
Less than two minutes later, a high-sticking penalty on former Ranger Brendan Smith provided a power-play opportunity — and Mika Zibanejad did not let it go to waste.
The Rangers’ best skater in these playoffs netted his team-leading seventh goal to push the lead to 2-0, using his go-to leg kick before finishing through Raanta’s legs.
While Carolina’s goalie struggled, Shesterkin came up big time after time.
The soon-to-be Vezina Trophy winner finished with 37 saves, including 15 to frustrate a buzzing Carolina in the opening period.
The goaltending advantage in this series has been stark, with Shesterkin posting a .949 save percentage through six games. Adding to his legend were two assists in a memorable Game 6 performance.
Meanwhile, Raanta couldn’t make it out of the second period.
Filip Chytil leads reunited Kid Line
It was a well-placed wrister from Filip Chytil that convinced Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour to pull his goalie.
Chytil had missed the net moments earlier on a two-on-one feed from Alexis Lafrenière, but made his next opportunity count to push the lead to 3-0 just 3:24 into the second period.
Pyotr Kochetkov took over in goal for the Canes, with Brady Skjei scoring shortly thereafter to cut their deficit to 3-1. But Chytil, who pushed the pace all game, had the highlight of the night to deny any hopes of a comeback.
He started by showing his strength, absorbing a hit attempt from Smith to send his former teammate to the ice. He then cut toward the net and unleashed a wicked backhand shot that entered just under the crossbar to extend the lead to 4-1 at the 6:47 mark in the second.
Chytil’s big night came while centering the familiar Kid Line, with Lafrenière and Kaapo Kakko on his wings. They had been the Rangers’ most effective line for long stretches in the playoffs, but hadn’t started together since Game 2 last week.
It would be wise to keep that line intact for Game 7.
Carolina added one more goal when Vincent Trocheck buried a rebound to make it 4-2, but the Rangers nailed down the win in the third period.
It was Artemi Panarin who pushed the lead to 5-2 with 12:17 to play, getting the monkey off his back with his first goal of the series. He’s looked tentative far too often in these playoffs, but was much more aggressive with his playmaking in an encouraging performance Saturday.