Can Garden Dominance of ‘Canes Continue?

The Rangers are back home tonight to face the Carolina Hurricanes for the third of four meetings between the Metro Division teams.

New York has dominated the first two games winning both, outscoring the Hurricanes a cumulative 12-1. The Blueshirts have beaten Carolina 14 consecutive times at The Garden and are seeking to keep that streak alive.

Carolina is hanging tough in the playoff race trailing the second wild card spot, presently held by Columbus, by six points. However, they do have a game in hand on the Blue Jackets. The Hurricanes are looking to get into postseason for just the second time since they won the Stanley Cup in 2006.

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The Rangers are coming off an entertaining 4-3 shootout loss to the Panthers in Florida. From the opening faceoff, the Blueshirts played with speed and moved the puck efficiently. It may very well have been the most complete game this group has played since all that went down at the trade deadline. Mika Zibanejad and Kevin Hayes both scored and, more importantly, played the dominant game that you need from your top centers.

Hayes has goals in back-to-back games and has found the back of the net five times in the team’s last six games. The 25-year-old Bostonian has played with more authority since the trade deadline and will be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights come July 1. General Manager Jeff Gorton will be busy this offseason on a number of fronts. Like Ryan Spooner, who added two more assists to his resume against the Panthers, getting a contract done for Hayes is going to take some work and perhaps a little patience.

The Hurricanes went into the Windy City and beat Chicago 3-1 in their last outing, playing their typical hard-working, well-coached game by outshooting the Blackhawks, 40-24. Most preseason predictions had Carolina playoff-bound and while the ‘Canes are still in the hunt, it has been the lack of consistent goaltending that has found them in the tight situation they are in. Netminder, Scott Darling was obtained via trade and signed to a four-year contract last summer. He has not been good enough, posting an 11-16-7 record with a 3.06 GAA and a .890 save percentage. There are a lot of good things going on with this team but these goaltending numbers are not good enough. So the struggle to qualify for the playoffs continues for the Hurricanes.

3 KEYS

1. Neutral Zone

Carolina is a team that is well-coached and does a good job paying attention to the neutral zone. They play a disciplined, clog it up style when defending, and make simple plays when moving forward. The Rangers need to be smart through the middle of the ice.

2. Hard, Quick on the Puck

The Blueshirts were very good on the puck in their last game against Florida. Battling hard and not being outnumbered around the puck will be equally important against a hard-working Carolina team.

3. Zibanejad-Hayes

Both were very good against the Panthers. You will have a better chance if your top players are just that. The Hurricanes are not overwhelming in the middle and the matchups should favor the Blueshirts.

[Watch Rangers Hurricanes Tonight on MSG & MSG GO. Download the app for free.]