Hurricanes brace for brutal stretch of schedule against multiple Stanley Cup contenders

The New York Rangers are suddenly scoring touchdowns, or so it seems.

Check out the scores. In the past two games, the Rangers beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 6-0 and then hammered the Nashville Predators 7-0.

Next up: the Carolina Hurricanes. Twice.

Call it bad timing for Carolina or simply the way the schedule falls, but the Canes and Rangers face off Tuesday in New York’s Madison Square Garden, then return to Raleigh for a Thursday game at PNC Arena.

And, for the Canes, there will be a back-to-back with the Toronto Maples Leafs and the Boston Bruins on Saturday and Sunday at PNC Arena.

“We knew we had a tough end of the season and it doesn’t get much tougher than what we’ve got coming up,” Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said Monday after practice at Invisalign Arena. “But one day at a time, and we’ll take the rest as it comes.”

Yes, Brind’Amour has seen the recent Rangers’ results and their scoring binges of late,

Surprising?

“Not really,” Brnd’Amour said. “They’ve got talent and they can put the puck in the net. We know they’ve got one of the best teams, just like (New) Jersey is. I mean, our division is a tough division. We know we’ve got our work cut out for us.”

The Hurricanes (45-15-8) have been battling the Devils for the Metropolitan Division lead seemingly all season, and held a one-point lead Monday after New Jersey’s victory Sunday at Tampa Bay. The Rangers (41-19-10) were third in the Metro, six points behind the Canes after winning four straight and six of their past seven to pull closer.

“It’s that time of year when we’re rolling into the big picture of the playoffs,” Caves captain Jordan Staal said Monday. “Playing teams like this will keep you sharpened. It’s good to play against the good teams. They’re all dialed in and ready to go.

“We need to get some W’s and stay where we are in the standings.”

The Canes barely got a W - or any points - the last time out, needing a goal by Martin Necas in the final second of regulation Saturday to tie the Philadelphia Flyers. Sebastian Aho then won it quickly in overtime with his third goal as the Canes stole away from the Wells Fargo Center with two points.

As the Canes continue to adjust to the loss of power forward Andrei Svechnikov, Brind’Amour shook up his lines Saturday, moving Jordan Martinook to Aho’s line and breaking up the dependable Staal line. Aho’s hat trick against the Flyers came after going seven games without a point.

“We obviously got lighter up front and we wanted to see if there are other things we can maybe get, and a little chemistry,” Brind’Amour said.

Brind’Amour had Martinook on Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s line Monday at practice with Teuvo Teravainen, as Necas was moved to Aho’s line.

“He adds pace and a little energy to your line,” Brind’Amour said of Martinook. “He’s kind of a catalyst.”

The Rangers hammered the Pens 6-0 on Saturday as goalie Igor Shesterkin picked up the shutout. They were even better Sunday against the Preds, scoring six goals in the first period as K’Andre Miller became the first defenseman in franchise history to have four points in a period – two goals and two assists. Jaroslav Halak had the shutout in net.

According to the Rangers, New York became the sixth team in NHL history to record back-to-back shutouts while scoring six or more goals, and the first since the 1977-78 Flyers.

“These next two games are big, obviously, and the next four games,” Canes defenseman Brady Skjei said Monday. “You can’t look ahead, but this (Rangers) team is on a nice little run right now. I’ve seen the scores. They’re playing well and it will be a tough match for us.”

It was too tough of a matchup in the 2022 playoffs. The Canes could not win one of the three road games at the Garden in the second-round series, generally unraveling in each one, then lost Game 7 to the Rangers at PNC Arena.

The Rangers have loaded up for this year’s playoffs, trading for such starpower as Patrick Kane from the Chicago Blackhawks and Vladimir Tarasenko from the St. Louis Blues before the NHL deadline.

“They definitely added some very elite offensive players,” Skjei said.”You’ve got to be smart. Obviously we can’t take many penalties or that team will eat you up.”

The Pens and Preds can attest to that.