RALEIGH, NC — Chants of “Ig-or! Ig-or” have been a familiar tune for the Rangers this season, but they’re usually heard in the heart of New York.
On Monday, they erupted repeatedly in the North Carolina state capital.
With each passing minute of Game 7, the Rangers blue became more prevalent around the PNC Arena. Hurricanes fans slowly made their way to the exits, giving way to the Blueshirts faithful who had invaded their rink.
About 500 miles from Madison Square Garden, a New York-style party broke out.
They were celebrating a decisive 6-2 victory for their Rangers, who ended their second-round playoff series with an adamant message that they arrived ahead of schedule.
Making the playoffs was an expectation. Beating the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round was in their wheelhouse. But overthrowing the Metro Division champion Hurricanes propels them into the NHL’s top echelon.
The road will only be more difficult from here. The two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning awaits the Eastern Conference Finals, which kicks off at 8 p.m. Wednesday at MSG. And while this game will pose its fair share of difficulties, this moment belongs to Rangers.
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They ended the Canes’ seven-game playoff winning streak at home and took control of Raleigh, leaving their fans to bask in the glory of what those bouncy Blueshirts have accomplished.
For a team that’s never been here before, their knack for rising to the occasion has been the biggest advantage of this playoff – and they’re yet to finish.
An MVP performance by Igor Shesterkin
The goaltending game against the Lightning and star Andrei Vasilevskiy will be epic, but he overwhelmingly favored Rangers in the second round.
Igor Shesterkin was excellent from start to finish on this series and ended with an exclamation point. His 36-save performance on Memorial Day was memorable, as he kept the Hurricanes off the board until well into the third period. Late goals from former Ranger Tony DeAngelo and Max Domi ended his chances of posting the second Game 7 in franchise history. (The first came from Henrik Lundqvist in 2013 against the Washington Capitals.)
Just like he did in Game 6, Shesterkin delivered an inspiring first period to rally his team and help them take an early lead.
While Carolina made a predictable push and peppered him with 16 shots in the opening 20 minutes, they were continually frustrated by his brilliance. Meanwhile, Hurricanes replacement Antti Raanta – who started all seven games due to a lower-body injury to starter Frederik Andersen – simply couldn’t keep up with his Vezina Trophy-bound counterpart.
Open the floodgates
His teammates let him down with unruly play. A snappy call on Sebastian Aho and a penalty for too many men gave Rangers two power plays in the first half and they took advantage of both.
The first ended with a goal from Adam TNZT at 3:40. He was set up by a back pass from Alexis Lafrenière and came on with just two seconds left on the power play.
The second took just 14 seconds, Chris Kreider redirecting a one-timer from Mika Zibanejad to make it 2-0 after just eight minutes.
That was all Shesterkin would need to earn a win as he continued to thwart Carolina’s attacks, but the Rangers would provide a lot more cushion.
The floodgates opened after Raanta suffered a lower body injury as he rushed for a stoppage at the end of the second half. He wouldn’t come back, the Blueshirts taking full advantage of it.
Ryan Strome greeted third stringer Pyotr Kochetkov with a goal to make it 3-0 with 3:41 left in the period, then Rangers retired with three more in the third.
Kreider added his second of the game, Filip Chytil notched his fifth of the playoffs and Andrew Copp scored an empty net to complete the most convincing victory of the series.
Vincent Z. Mercogliano is the New York Rangers reporter for the USA TODAY Network. Learn more about his work at lohud.com/sports/rangers/ and follow him on Twitter @vzmercogliano.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: NHL Playoffs: Rangers win Game 7 against Hurricanes, to face Lightning