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Hurricanes shut down Rangers again to take 2-0 series lead

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RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA - MAY 20: Brendan Smith #7 of the Carolina Hurricanes scores a shorthanded goal at 15:54 of the second period against the New York Rangers in Game Two of the Second Round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at PNC Arena on May 20, 2022 in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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The Carolina Hurricanes were one of the best defensive and penalty killing teams in the league during the regular season, and the New York Rangers are getting a first-hand look at it so far in their Second Round series.

The Hurricanes absolutely smothered the Rangers’ offense on Friday night in a 2-0 win, helping Carolina take a commanding 2-0 lead in the series as it shifts back to New York this week.

Through two games the Rangers have just scored a single against the Hurricanes, and after a strong start over the first period in Game 1 their offense has been almost non-existent. Not only are they not scoring goals, they are not getting good looks. Carolina’s Antti Raanta was asked to stop just 21 shots on Friday and only a few of them were what could realistically be considered strong scoring chances.

It is almost as if the Rangers are trying to adjust from their poor defensive performance in the First Round against Pittsburgh and trying to play an overly conservative game against Carolina. They definitely had to improve their defensive play against a much faster and deeper Hurricanes team, and they absolutely have. But it has come at the expense of any sustained offensive attack.

Even worse, the Rangers also struggled on the power play on Friday. That was a major strength for them in the First Round and a unit that changed a bunch of games -- and the series -- in their favor. But even that group is struggling against Carolina, the league’s best PK unit during the regular season, going 0-for-4 on Friday and also giving up a shorthanded goal to former Ranger Brendan Smith in the second period.

That goal was the difference and the game’s only goal until Sebastian Aho added an empty-net tally with three seconds to play in regulation.

The Rangers have been down before this postseason and managed to come back, but this challenge is going to be way more difficult than what they faced in the First Round against a Pittsburgh team that was playing a third-string goalie. The Hurricanes are not only a better opponent as a team, they have a significantly better goalie than what the Rangers faced in the First Round. Neither one is giving up much of anything for the Hurricanes in the playoffs.