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RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA - MAY 09: Chris Kreider #20 of the New York Rangers scores a goal against Pyotr Kochetkov #52 of the Carolina Hurricanes during the second period in Game Three of the Second Round of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs at PNC Arena on May 09, 2024 in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Josh Lavallee/NHLI via Getty Images)
Josh Lavallee/NHLI via Getty Images

The Rangers finished the regular season with elite special teams, scoring on 26.4 percent of their power plays, and killing 84.5 percent of them the other way, both good for third in the NHL. That would've been an on-paper advantage going into a series against any team other than the Carolina Hurricanes. The Canes were second in the league on the man advantage (26.9 percent) and first on the kill (86.4 percent). We're talking marginal difference between the two teams, but games and seasons are won and lost in the margins. Add in their 5-on-5 mastery and Carolina was favored to win the series and the Cup. But what should have been a strength has deserted them at the worst time, against the worst team for it to happen; whistles have become their worst nightmare.

"There's two games going on here," Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "If you want to write the right story, that's what's going on. And we're losing one badly. But we're doing pretty damn good on the other one."

I want to write the right story, Rod. So I concur that you're getting your ass beat on both the power play and the kill. The Rangers are 4-for-14 on the man advantage through three games. And Carolina? Oh, buddy. After going 5-for-15 against the Islanders in the first round, the Hurricanes are 0-for-15 in this series. The Rangers have scored more on Carolina power plays than Carolina has.

Here's last night's shorty, a second-period tying goal in an eventual 3-2 Rangers OT win. As is often the case, it was Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad, the NHL's friendship/60 leaders, causing trouble. Kreider got his body into two Canes, taking them both out of the play, while Zibanejad pressured Brent Burns into turning over the puck at the blue line. From there it was a race: The speedy Kreider easily outskating Burns, while a patient Zibanejad waited on Jake Guentzel to reveal a passing lane. That's how one brief lapse—you can't even call it a "mistake" from Burns—turns into a backbreaker.

The Rangers would earn another shorthanded breakaway 30 seconds later, still on the same kill as Kreider's goal.

“We gave up that shorty and I thought we just kind of got away from what we were trying to do," Brind'Amour said. "That kind of took the life out of the group. That’s three games in a row. Same story. That’s what changed the game.’’

The Rangers' first PK unit is more defensive-minded, but the second squad—Kreider, Zibanejad, Adam Fox, and K'Andre Miller, who scored a shorty in the first round against the Caps—is full of opportunists who reflect the team's offensive philosophy that there's never a time to just sit back and defend. Miller's goal, particularly, came at the end of a passing sequence that wouldn't have looked out of place on a man advantage. Part of that is having trust in your goalie that he can clean up your messes—Igor Shesterkin has been fab—and part of it is simply sticking with what works. The most incredible stat of the playoffs so far: The Rangers have been shorthanded 29 times in the postseason, and they've outscored opponents 3-2.

Two of the shorties tied the game, and one was a game-winner. Throw in a power play that's racked up four go-ahead goals and two winners, and you've got a team that's 7-0. “You look at every series, and if you win the special teams battle I think you have a pretty good chance at winning your series," Fox said.

The Hurricanes have outscored the Rangers at even strength, 7-6. But special teams make special teams.

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