The Rangers had plenty of time to think about what Saturday would look like.
But Game 1 of their Stanley Cup qualifiers quickly went off-script — even before the puck dropped.
Henrik Lundqvist drew the surprise start in net, with Igor Shesterkin deemed unfit to play, but the Rangers got off to a rough start in front of him and couldn’t fully recover in a 3-2 loss to the Hurricanes at Scotiabank Arena.
Marc Staal scored a shorthanded goal with 1:55 left in regulation to make it a one-goal game, but the Rangers’ comeback efforts ended there.
Trailing 2-1 after two periods, Lundqvist (34 saves) had continued to keep the Rangers alive in the third until an unfortunate deflection extended the Hurricanes’ lead. Seconds after a Carolina power play expired, Martin Necas fired a one-timer that bounced off of Staal’s skate and through Lundqvist’s legs to make it 3-1 at 10:51.
The Rangers were left lamenting their missed opportunities after going 0-for-7 on the power play. The Hurricanes also had seven chances on the man-advantage but converted one of them, which proved to be the difference in the end.
Both teams may have been playing for the first time in nearly five months and in front of an empty arena, but there was no lack of intensity from the get-go in this one — even if it invited chaos.
Within the game’s first five minutes alone, there was a goal, a fight, a handful of punishing hits and four penalties. Artemi Panarin quickly lost both of his linemates to the locker room as Jesper Fast left after taking a big hit from former teammate Brady Skjei — Fast did not return — before Ryan Strome joined him after being bloodied in a fight with Justin Williams.
The Hurricanes, meanwhile, grabbed the early 1-0 lead on their first shot against Lundqvist. Jaccob Slavin skated through the backdoor to take a cross-ice pass from Sebastian Aho and roofed a wrister for the 1-0 lead just 61 seconds into the game.
While the Rangers tried to settle down and find their footing, Lundqvist was there to keep it a one-goal game through the first 20 minutes. After a brutal Rangers power play went to waste, Lundqvist came up with some big saves on a penalty kill as the Hurricanes outshot the Blueshirts 12-4 in the opening period.
The Rangers got two more chances early in the second period to tie the score on a power play, but still couldn’t capitalize. The second man-advantage, during which they began to create better chances, was quickly followed by a Warren Foegele breakaway that forced Lundqvist to make the save.
But minutes later Brett Howden went to the box for slashing and the Hurricanes immediately took advantage. Andrei Svechnikov sent a hard pass out front and Aho redirected it in to go up 2-0 at 6:29.
After a sixth power play came and went, Mika Zibanejad finally put the Rangers on the board when he deflected a low shot from Ryan Lindgren to beat Petr Mrazek to make it 2-1 at 14:26 of the second period.