Hurricanes face changes after inexplicable Game 6 loss to Rangers ends season

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Carolina Hurricanes
Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

How could the Carolina Hurricanes explain the inexplicable? How they were one period away from winning their third straight elimination game and forcing Game 7 against the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Second Round.

But like a faucet that can’t quite be turned off, it started with a drip here and there before an unstoppable flood swept the Hurricanes right out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 5-3 loss Thursday.

Deservedly up 3-1 early in the third period of Game 6 at home in Raleigh, the Hurricanes came out charging in the final period. Jordan Martinook uncorked a howitzer of a slap shot that beat Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin clean. But hit the crossbar. Moments later, Jake Guentzel beat Shesterkin again, off a left-wing rush. This time time it caught the short-side post.


Still up 3-1, Sebastian Aho shot wide of the net on a breakaway after Rangers defensemen Braden Schneider and Erik Gustafsson collided and each fell down.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

“The start of the third period, we hit two posts, had a breakaway, had good looks and obviously we couldn’t score there,” Aho told reporters. “They scored when they had a chance. I don’t know what changed.”

At 6:43, Hurricanes goalie Frederik Andersen, for the second time in this series, couldn’t handle a pass/shot from behind the goal line, this one by Mika Zibanejad. The puck caught up in his skates, Andersen didn’t or couldn’t make a quick play. Chris Kreider — remember his name — poked the disc into the net and the Rangers had life, down 3-2.

“The [second goal] was a tough one,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour explained. “Just can’t happen. We know that. You can’t give a team like that a goal and I know we gave them a couple. That’s really not good and then the momentum changed.”

Reliable Hurricanes captain Jordan Staal, a hero in their Game 5 comeback win on the road, helped turn the drip into more than a trickle halfway through the period. First, he was stoned all alone in front by Shesterkin. And later on the same shift, Staal was penalized for cross-checking Zibanejad behind Carolina’s net at 10:58.

The Rangers hadn’t score a power-play goal since Game 2. But Kreider neatly deflected Artemi Panarin’s shot past Andersen at 11:54. Tie game. Raleigh was now Panic City.

If the dam hadn’t already burst, then it surely did at 15:41. Kreider completed the natural hat trick potting what turned out to be the decisive goal off a pretty feed from defenseman Ryan Lindgren, who had been absolutely robbed in the second period when his breakaway shot leaked through Andersen, only to be swept away at the goal line by a diving Martinook.

Shesterkin is no Andersen. So, he made a massive one-on-one blocker save against Andrei Svechnikov with under three minutes to play and Andersen pulled for the extra attacker. The faucet couldn’t be turned off. Barclay Goodrow iced the game and the series with a long empty-net goal with 49 seconds left.

“That’s tough,” Brind’Amour said. “It’s a special group in there. This was a tough way to end a really good year. These guys played their butts off all year, but this is what you’re going to remember. That’s the hard part. It’s a business. I’d love to roll us back with these guys, but who knows how that’s all going to shake out.”

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Hurricanes face difficult offseason decisions after brutal series loss to Rangers

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Carolina Hurricanes
Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Brind’Amour was referring to the uncertainty of what’s next for him and the Hurricanes. He has coached Carolina for six seasons, and in each he guided the Hurricanes to at least one series victory in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Twice they reached the Eastern Conference Final (2019, 2023) under Brind’Amour, who is without a contract and could be a highly sought-after candidate with so many NHL teams seeking a new coach.

Yet, the end to each postseason has been more painful than the last. Being swept by the Florida Panthers in the 2023 conference final may not sting as much as this series, falling behind the Rangers 3-0 by losing three one-goal games (two in overtime) before dramatically rallying for consecutive wins. Only to go down they way they did in the third period of Game 6. Brutal.

If this is the end for Brind’Amour, the fourth most tenured coach in the NHL, it’s been a helluva’ run in Carolina. A .664 points percentage in the regular season (278-130-44), three first-place finishes, a franchise-record 116 points in 2021-22, the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year in 2020-21. But no Stanley Cup Final appearances and just a 38-36 postseason record.

Brind’Amour is not the only Carolina free agent. Forwards Jake Guentzel, Teuvo Teravainen, Stefan Noesen, and Martinook are unrestricted free agents. So, too, are defensemen Brett Pesce (who missed this entire series with a lower-body injury), Brady Skjei, Jalen Chatfield and Tony DeAngelo. RFAs Martin Necas, Seth Jarvis and Jack Drury need to be resigned.

There should be salary cap space to bring back one or two of those key players. But that’s still a big overhaul. And a No. 1 goalie likely will be acquired..

It’s decision time for general manager Don Waddell, who will get a jump on things now that the Hurricanes, once again, have bowed bowed out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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