What's gone wrong for the Rangers — and what can they do about it?

New York Rangers coach Peter Laviolette is concerned.

He wasn’t alarmed when the Rangers suffered their first loss of the 2024 Stanley Cup playoffs in Game 4 against the Carolina Hurricanes. He disliked the result, but liked the way the team played — with the understanding that three straight wins against the Canes to start the series gave the Rangers some breathing room.

But Laviolette saw the Rangers “off their mark” in Game 5, a 4-1 defeat at Madison Square Garden that narrowed their series lead to 3-2 and set up Game 6 back in Raleigh on Thursday night.

They didn’t play with speed. They didn’t have the proper offensive attack. Their details weren’t there. And that concerned him.

“I mean, anytime you don’t play up to your capabilities, you get concerned about that. But I also know that this group has had games like [Game 5] before and they responded,” he said. “I think there’s oftentimes a realization that it wasn’t us. It wasn’t who we want to be. Oftentimes this year, they’ve fixed that.”

What do the Rangers need to fix for Game 6? What do they need to be concerned about?

Here’s a look at how New York’s series with Carolina is trending — and which trends can be reversed.

Hurricanes are widening 5-on-5 gap

Consensus opinion entering this series was that the Hurricanes were the better team at 5-on-5. They were first in the regular season and the playoffs in percentage of shot attempts; the Rangers were 19th before the playoffs. The Canes were first and third in expected goals for and against, respectively; the Rangers were 20th and 18th in those categories. New York improved at even strength since acquiring Alex Wennberg and Jack Roslovic at the trade deadline, but Carolina has been on another level.

The Hurricanes have had the shot attempt advantage in all five games of this series, and the expected goals percentage advantage in every game but their Game 1 loss in New York. After scoring three goals at even strength in Game 5, they lead the 5-on-5 scoring for the series 11-9. They’re plus-25 in scoring chances and plus-11 in high-danger shot attempts.

“We really believe we had some good games at the start but had some mistakes, especially with the special teams. That’s gotten a lot better,” Carolina captain Jordan Staal said. “I think our game at 5-on-5 has been really good, really solid. And it’s coming together a little bit more. We’ve got to just keep fighting.”

While they’re underwater in expected goals (46.3%), the Rangers are even in goals for and against at 5-on-5 through nine playoff games. One big reason for that: The line of Artemi Panarin, Vincent Trocheck and Alexis Lafreniere.

The trio has earned 55.7% of the shot attempts and are thriving in scoring chances (plus-12) and high-danger shot attempts (plus-6). But Carolina got the best of them in Game 5. They saw plenty of Jaccob Slavin, Jordan Martinook and Martin Necas, and all of them outplayed the Rangers’ most productive line.

The analytics say that Game 5 was one of the Rangers’ weakest since the All-Star break. Meghan Chayka of Stathletes noted that they had their second-lowest expected goals (1.95) and third-fewest scoring chances (10) in that span.

To address that, there may be some lineup shuffling for Game 6.

At their skate on Wednesday, the Rangers switched up their defense pairings. K’Andre Miller was reunited with Jacob Trouba, a pairing that saw the most minutes together in the regular season for New York. Miller’s former partner, Braden Schneider, skated with Erik Gustafsson, who had been playing with Trouba over the past few weeks. Both of those previous pairings were under 50% in expected goals share in the playoffs. Schneider and Gustafsson were also partners for most of the regular season.

Laviolette wouldn’t commit to those being the pairings the Rangers will ice in Game 6.

“There’s a lot of experience there. A lot of minutes together,” he said of Trouba and Miller. “They’re big and strong and have a lot of experience playing against top lines.”

The power-play outage

The Rangers’ middling play at 5-on-5 has always been mitigated by their incredible power play. They had a stretch of 10 power-play goals in five playoff games, spanning from Game 2 of their sweep against the Washington Capitals to their Game 2 win over the Hurricanes — a game in which they scored the tying and winning goals on the power play.

They didn’t score on the power play in Game 3 but had a critical shorthanded goal from Chris Kreider to tie the game. The Hurricanes are 1-for-20 on their own power plays, which has been just as important to the Rangers’ success as their own man advantages.

Carolina’s lone power-play goal was a big one, as Brady Skjei won Game 4 with a late score in the third period. While the Rangers scored shorthanded in Game 5, their power play was shut out again — marking the first time New York has gone three straight games without a power play goal since March 11-14.

“The power-play goals that we’ve gotten are on broken plays. We’ve got to move things quicker,” Laviolette said after Game 5. “They’re very aggressive in what they do and we have to move. I don’t think we’re sharp.”

The Hurricanes have been gaining momentum by finally slowing the Rangers’ power play.

“The kill has been really big for us in the last two games,” Martinook said. “I feel like the bench after you kill it off — and especially when you get blocked shots and guys are selling out — it definitely gives us a boost. You look at that next shift after having a penalty kill, it usually creates momentum.”

There wasn’t much that happened in Game 4 that would have the Rangers unnerved about closing out the series in Game 5. That included Andersen, who lost the first two games of the series and was replaced by Pyotr Kochetkov for Game 3. Andersen stopped 22 of 25 shots in Game 4, but was in the negative for goals saved above expected. He didn’t exactly inspire much confidence, giving up a bad-angle goal to Lafrenière in the third period that allowed the Rangers to tie the game.

But he got the win, which was the only thing Carolina cared about.

Andersen’s performance in Game 5 should give the Rangers a little more cause for concern. He had a 1.41 goals-saved above expected for the game, stopping 20 of 21 shots. The Canes played quite well in front of him, but when Carolina had to have Andersen make a stop, he gave them everything they needed.

“It wasn’t a ton of work. That was good on our part that we didn’t allow that,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “But obviously a couple big saves at crucial times. He kept us in the game. If they go up by two goals in that game, it would have been tough.”

The Rangers have had the advantage in goal all playoffs thanks to Igor Shesterkin. Whether or not Andersen has closed that gap depends greatly on whether the Rangers make life more difficult for him in Game 6. Chayka noted that the Rangers had their second-fewest shots on goal with a net-front presence (three) and their third-fewest scoring chances from the slot (seven) in a game since the All-Star break.

A lot of the credit goes to Carolina’s defense, and the fact that the Rangers were not getting to their game … but give credit where it’s due: Andersen was better than expected in Game 5, both analytically and via the eye test.

Since joining the Hurricanes, Andersen is 7-1 at home with a .926 save percentage and a 1.80 goals-against average. But then, there’s a lot that goes right at home for Carolina.

Carolina at home

Rangers captain Jacob Trouba said building a 3-0 lead in a series has its advantages.

“Obviously we want to close out series, but we put ourselves in a position that we get a couple cracks at it,” he said after New York failed in its second attempt to close out the Hurricanes. “We played good games in Carolina. We know we can play in that building and we’ll go down there and bring a better game.”

The Rangers already have a win in Raleigh in this series, needing overtime to take Game 3. That’s rather notable, given how successful the Hurricanes have been at home under Brind’Amour in the playoffs: 26-12, the best postseason record of any team at home since 2018-19 (minimum 20 games). They’ve averaged 3.13 goals and 2.00 goals against (first in the NHL) during that stretch. Compare that to 2.60 goals and 3.43 goals against on the road. They’re a different team in Raleigh.

“I’m just proud of the group. They brought us another day,” said Brind’Amour, whose teams have gone 16-5 at home in the past three postseasons. “For our fans, it’s great. They deserved to see another game, and that’s what we gave them.”

That’s what the Rangers lost in losing Game 5: Not just the chance to eliminate the Hurricanes, but to avoid having to play in front of those raucous fans in Raleigh who share the same anxious optimism as their hockey heroes.

“We gave ourselves a chance to play another game to give ourselves a chance to hopefully come back here,” Martinook said after Game 5. “We’re fighting for our lives every game.”

The Rangers know what they need to do to snuff out that optimism before it builds to a crescendo in Game 7 on Saturday. They’re confident they can accomplish it.

‘We know that the fourth game is always the toughest one to win,” Trouba said. “It’s a team with their season on the line. We’ve got to find a way to match that level of intensity and desperation.”

And in the process, avoid becoming just the fifth team in NHL history to lose a series after building a 3-0 lead.

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