Rangers Drop Challenging Battle in Raleigh

Hurricanes 4, Rangers 3

In normal climate times, North Carolina is a pleasant place to visit … but not when the hurricanes hit Raleigh.

The ice version of the Hurricanes sure hit the Rangers last night at PNC Arena and the result was not what oddsmakers would have figured; not by a long shot or slap shot either.

Buried in the NHL’s subterranean depths, coach Bill Peters’ sextet came from behind in the third period for a 4-3 upset which magnified the Hockey 101 lesson; Never Take Any Team Lightly.

A pair of Carolina power play goals in the third underlined that point, including the winner that thoroughly infuriated the normally calm goalie Antti Raanta, not to mention about a dozen-and-a-half teammates.

Coming off a pair of sterling Florida victories, the injury-riddled New Yorkers figured to make it a hat-trick of Ws on the road, but the home club had other thoughts. Especially the Finnish Whiz Kid rookie Sebastian Aho.

Only 19 years old, Aho delivered his 19th and 20th goals. The last one on a power play was officially challenged by Alain Vigneault. The MSG Networks analysts believed that A.V. would win it.

The Rangers based their case on the fact that Raanta was interfered with by Carolina forward Elias Lindholm. At the very least, it was the closest of close calls.

Nixing the Rangers pleas, the league ruled that Raanta was the culprit, claiming that the goalie initiated the contact. Replays indicated that such was not the case. But the NHL — after further review — insisted that its no was a NO. Neither Raanta nor the Blueshirts general staff bought the explanation.

Neither did MSG Networks analyst Joe Micheletti, who insisted that it was the other way around; interference initiated by Carolina.

With Henrik Lundqvist sidelined, Raanta was back between the irons but, alas, this was not another visit to Shutout City for the Finnish puck-stopper.

Oh, yeah, the good news: The three goals by the Rangers were all scored on the power play!

OVERVIEW: The Blueshirts fired a ton of pucks at Cam Ward and had three goals to show for it entering the final frame. But the Canes youth and speed took over, along with their exploiting the Rangers penalty-killers on the tying and winning power play goals. Down by a goal, the Seventh Avenue Skaters went into desperation mode, hit a goal post, but couldn’t produce another twine-denter. Games that appear easy on paper, turn tough on the ice.

WHAT WENT WRONG:

1. FINAL PERIOD FLOP: When the Rangers enter the third period against a bottom-feeder such as the Canes, you figure another win will be in the works. But the Canes were in comeback mode and the Blueshirts penalty-killers were unable to cope with rookie sharpshooter Sebastian Aho.

2.  CONTROVERSIAL CALL AGAINST: The Rangers insisted that Aho’s winning goal came as a result of Carolina’s Elias Lindholm interfering with Raanta. The question debated was this: Did Raanta initiate the contact with Elias Lindholm as the NHL decided? MSG Networks’ analysts disagreed, insisting that the Rangers goalie was in the correct place, in the blue paint. The New York protests were overruled and the closest the Rangers could come after that was a clang of the goal post.

3. EITHER FATIGUE OR A NATURAL LETDOWN OR INJURIES OR ALL THREE: With core players still out with injuries and Rick Nash plus Henrik Lundqvist added to the list, the Rangers were taxed physically with their third road game in four nights. Then again, with Carolina virtually out of the playoff picture, there was a natural tendency to approach the game with less than the intensity displayed during the two wins in Florida.

TURNING POINT: This one is easy. On Aho’s winning, power play goal, was it legal or illegal because of goaltender interference? The NHL officials on the ice and in the Toronto office ruled that it was fair and counted. Vigneault, Raanta, Captain McDonagh & Co. offered good, visual evidence that the goalie was sufficiently interfered with and there could be no doubt that it should have been ruled no-goal. Hence the final score rested on that play. P.S. – No appeal can change it.

WHAT THEY SAID:

1. MSG NETWORKS ANALYST RON DUGUAY: “It was a close game that could have gone either way.”

2. MSG NETWORKS ANALYST STEVE VALIQUETTE:  “On Carolina’s winning goal, it should not have counted. The left elbow of Carolina’s Lindholm pushed Raanta’s mask up. On the Rangers challenge, the little screen that the referee’s use makes it impossible for them to clearly see Raanta’s plastic dangler (under his mask) be pushed up his face. The referees didn’t even take a third or fourth look at (the screen) to really see what happened on the play.”

3. RYAN MCDONAGH: “I was surprised that the goal wasn’t overturned. It was the turning point and we didn’t handle it well after that happened. In the third period, the Canes had a lot of speed on the rush. We did get confidence with the three power play goals we scored, but I was disappointed with our lack of structure in the third period.”

4. ANTTI RAANTA: “When I was interfered with on the winning goal, my mask was pushed up on my nose. It was pretty tough to see the puck that way. I was at the top of my crease on that play; on the blue paint.”

5. ALAIN VIGNEAULT: “I thought our protest was 100 percent right. Antti’s skates were in the blue. In my opinion, it was the wrong call. But in the third period, we didn’t make the plays we needed to make.”

COMING ATTRACTIONS: Beware, brothers and sisters, beware. Another out-of-the-playoffs team is coming up Sunday in Detroit. Joe Louis Arena will be the venue where the Red Wings should be treated with caution. That is, if the lesson was learned in Raleigh. Game Time: 7 PM. TV: NBCSN

BOTTOM LINE: Secure in the knowledge that they’ll make the postseason, the Rangers can afford a disputable loss as happened in Carolina. A word to the wise: It shouldn’t happen again in Detroit!