Rangers know just what to expect in return to Raleigh for Game 6

RALEIGH, N.C. — Before the Hurricanes’ Game 5 triumph in Manhattan, forward Evgeny Kuznetsov said the Rangers know it’s going to be hell here.

In a way, the fact the Rangers fell into this position in the first place, a sixth game, is an inferno in itself.

That’s not just because the Blueshirts have fumbled two of their past three playoff series leads, but because this 2024 team has twice built a larger edge in the best-of-seven joust during this playoff run than the franchise has had since 2007.

Hurricanes fans cheer following their team’s goal against the New York Rangers in Game 4. JASON SZENES FOR THE NEW YORK POST

You know what they say though: The higher the climb, the longer the fall.

So the Rangers haul back down south, where they’ll have to brave the road conditions as they try to close out this series for a third time.

“We’ve played there many times, know we’ve had success there before,” Ryan Lindgren told The Post after practice in Tarrytown on Wednesday. “We know what to expect out of that building, and we’re excited.”

It’s not like the Rangers got to the playoffs and reverted back to old ways.

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No, they barely broke a sweat through Round 1 and wasted no time finishing the series against a much lesser opponent in Washington, a testament to their capabilities nonetheless.

Their performance in Game 5 of this second-round series against the Hurricanes, however, was not the 2023-24 Rangers we’ve come to know.

Rangers center Mika Zibanejad (93) and center Vincent Trocheck (16) come off the ice after warmups. James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The Rangers we’ve watched all year get the job done.

They’ve won when it mattered most and usually did so in convincing fashion. No matter the circumstances, the obstacles or opponent.

“From what I get, there’s oftentimes a realization that it wasn’t us and who we want to be,” Rangers head coach Peter Laviolette said of the last game, which saw the Rangers blow a 1-0 lead at the start of the third period en route to their first multi-goal defeat of the postseason, a 4-1 loss. “Oftentimes this year, many times this year, they’ve fixed it.”

So for the Hurricanes, of all teams, to be the ones to push back on the Rangers, it’s quite fitting considering how the regular season unfolded.

Carolina was really the only team to truly challenge the Rangers in the Metropolitan Division standings this season, after winning it the previous two years, as well as the Central Division in 2021-22.

Every time the Canes threatened what became a 175-day streak at No. 1 for the Rangers, they consistently delivered a win to maintain their distance.

Now the distance between these two clubs has never been smaller, after the Hurricanes staved off elimination two games in a row.

Rangers left wing Alexis Lafreniere (13) scores a goal Against Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Frederik Andersen. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

It’s come down to Game 6 on the road for the Rangers.

Because if it eventually comes down to Game 7, anything can happen.

PNC Arena has largely been a fortress for the Hurricanes, who are tied for the second-best home record in the NHL since 2021-22 at 84-28-11.

Though it hasn’t quite had that effect on the Rangers in recent years.

Over the past two seasons, the Rangers are a combined 4-1 at Carolina.

Plus, they won Game 7 of the 2022 second round, when the Rangers trounced the Canes to advance to the conference final.

“I think as you go on in the playoffs, it’s just a reality of trying to win a Stanley Cup,” Jimmy Vesey said. “I don’t know if someone said it this year, but I heard this quote, ‘If you win the Stanley Cup, it’ll be the hardest thing you ever do.’ That means just there’s so much momentum and highs and lows throughout the year, and obviously it gets magnified in the playoffs.

“We’ve done a good job of responding all year, and managing ups and downs, and it’s no different. We just got to go in and win a hockey game.”

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