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NHL teams not going quietly in Stanley Cup Playoff elimination games

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Boston Bruins at Florida Panthers
Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Early on in the second round of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs, it looked like three of the four series would be wrapped up surprisingly quickly. Since then, however, teams facing elimination are 4-0, and all four series are ongoing.

In the Eastern Conference, the New York Rangers raced to a 3-0 series lead over the Carolina Hurricanes, and were looking to become the first team in NHL history to sweep the first two rounds of best-of-7 series. Since then, Carolina has won two straight, and forced Game 6 on home ice Thursday. The Florida Panthers held a 3-1 series lead over the Boston Bruins, yet Boston held on to win Game 5 on the road. They will also look to force a Game 7 by winning the sixth game at home Friday.

In the Western Conference, the Dallas Stars were up 3-1 against the Colorado Avalanche. Yet again, the visiting team facing elimination came up big in Game 5 when the Avalanche won 5-3 on Wednesday, forcing Game 6 back in Colorado. 

“I think we were very desperate,” Avalanche forward Jonathan Drouin explained. “When your back is against the wall like that, guys have to answer, and we did.”

WATCH: Chris Tanev has tooth pulled during Game 5, barely misses shift for Stars against Avalanche

NHL teams succeeding while ‘playing for their lives’

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Colorado Avalanche at Dallas Stars
Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

There is something to be said about an NHL team that is facing playoff elimination, the end of their season, the end of all the hard work that started back in the early days of September. They play with an entirely different level of desperation. It is something that is impossible to replicate, which may explain why teams are having such a hard time closing out the opposition in the second round. 

“You’re kind of laying it all out on the line, right,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar mentioned. “You have to.”

It is that “win or go home” mentality that propels teams to make incredible comebacks time and time again in the playoffs. Just two seasons ago, it was the Rangers who overcame a 3-1 series deficit in the first round, rallying back against the Pittsburgh Penguins, winning Game 7 in overtime.

Now, the Hurricanes have a chance to do something only four NHL teams have done before, pulling off the reverse sweep. After winning two games, they head back to Carolina with all the momentum in the series. It will be a true test for the Rangers, who are facing their first bit of adversity after starting 7-0 in these playoffs. 

“The fourth (win) is hard,” Rangers coach Peter Laviolette said. “The more your back gets up against the wall as an opponent, the better your game is, the more intense it is. Putting teams away is something that you know is going to be a good battle. It’s going to be a good grind because they’re playing for their lives.”

Even Florida, which seemed to be the heavy favorite, is not out of the woods yet. The Panthers are faced with winning Game 6 in a very loud TD Garden if they want to clinch this series. If not, they will have to win Game 7 back at home, with all the pressure on their shoulders. 

The only second-round series that is square through four games is the one between the Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers. The have alternated one-goal wins and sit 2-2 after Edmonton’s 3-2 win Tuesday. But someone will be facing elimination when Game 6 is played Saturday in Edmonton.

Perhaps then another team will join this list of those refusing to go quietly into the offseason.

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