With Rangers struggling, Hurricanes are testing New York’s winning formula

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NEW YORK — After multiple goals this postseason, Artemi Panarin has whipped his stick through the air like a baseball bat in celebration. Monday evening, he found himself making a similar motion, just for very different reasons. After Carolina’s Evgeny Kuznetsov beat Panarin for a rebound and sent the puck flying into the net for the go-ahead goal, the Rangers star smashed his stick into the glass in anger.

Kuznetsov’s goal stood as the game-winner — a frustrating moment in a frustrating night for the Rangers, who lost 4-1 in Game 5. New York entered the third period with the lead after a Jacob Trouba short-handed tally, then proceeded to give up four unanswered goals. Suddenly, the Rangers’ 3-0 series lead is 3-2 with the series shifting back to Raleigh.

“They wanted it more in the third,” Vincent Trocheck said postgame.

“There were a lot of issues tonight,” added a frustrated Peter Laviolette, who said the team’s issues went beyond just the final period.

Throughout the season, New York has relied on an elite power play, along with five-on-five production from the line of Panarin, center Vincent Trocheck and right wing Alexis Lafrenière. When that hasn’t been enough, goaltender Igor Shesterkin has often been there to bail the team out. That was enough for the Rangers to win the Presidents’ Trophy, set a franchise record for regular season wins and jump out to a 7-0 start in the playoffs. Suddenly, though, Carolina is testing New York’s winning formula.

Panarin has no points and a minus-5 rating in two games since his overtime winner in Game 3. Trocheck hasn’t added to the score sheet in that span, either, and Lafrenière’s lone goal came when taking a shift with Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad.

The Rangers still had 59 percent of the expected goal share with the Panarin-Trocheck-Lafrenière line on the ice in Game 5, according to Natural Stat Trick, but Carolina led in scoring chances and high-danger chances in that span. One of the Hurricanes’ most dangerous chances, a Jake Guentzel breakaway saved by Shesterkin, happened with them on the ice.

“When you give them the puck, it’s not easy to cover them,” said Martin Necas, who played more than five minutes against the Panarin line in Game 5. “Once you keep the puck on your sticks, they’re not as good defensively. That’s how you’ve got to play against them, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Panarin’s skating did draw an apparent hooking penalty on Jalen Chatfield shortly before Kuznetsov’s goal, but the officials didn’t call it. Each team got three power plays in the game, and New York’s unit looked far from as dominant as it was earlier in the series. On the Rangers’ first power play, which came after a Kuznetsov slash, Zibanejad got a solid look on a pass off the rush, but that was about it. The Hurricanes generated more chances in that two-minute span, with Teuvo Teravainen getting a dangerous shot from the wing.

In total, Carolina goaltender Frederik Andersen had to make only five saves in New York’s six minutes of power-play time.

“We’ve just got to execute better on our entries,” Trocheck said. “I don’t think they changed out much on their forecheck.”

The unit, which scored four power-play goals in the first two games of the series, now has gone eight tries without a goal.

“(The Hurricanes are) aggressive in what they do,” Laviolette said. “We’ve got to move things a little quicker.”

The Hurricanes know that to beat New York, they have to beat Shesterkin. The goalie was far from the Rangers’ biggest issue Monday — he saved more goals than expected, according to Natural Stat Trick — but the Rangers allowed too many dangerous chances in front of him, and Carolina eventually broke through. Jordan Staal got around Braden Schneider on Carolina’s first goal early in the third, and Panarin wasn’t in position to prevent Kuznetsov’s rebound goal. Then Trouba turned a puck over behind the net midway through the third, allowing Necas to feed Jordan Martinook in the slot.

New York didn’t put its goalie in position to steal a game, as he did in Game 2, and Carolina took advantage.

“Any time you don’t play up to your capabilities, you get concerned about that,” Laviolette said. “But I also know that this group has had games like that before, and they’ve responded.”

The task will be harder in Carolina, where Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour will have control over last change. He can select matchups and perhaps lean on his Guentzel-Sebastian Aho-Andrei Svechnikov line against Panarin’s trio.

Still, the Rangers are not in a position to panic. If they win one of their next two games, they’re on to the Eastern Conference final. Carolina adjusted when New York jumped to a series lead, and now it’s Laviolette and his players’ turn.

“At the beginning of the year, if you told me we’d be 3-2 against the second-best team in the league and (had) an opportunity to close it out, it’s a pretty good spot to be in,” Kreider said. “Just go down there and be better, be more detailed, work for each other and find a way to win a game.”

To do that, the Rangers will need to get back to what earned them the No. 1 overall seed — far from what they showed Monday night.

(Photo: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

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