Carolina Hurricanes rookie center Seth Jarvis looked puffy like a playoff hockey player on Friday.
With the game on Thursday night and Rangers forward Ryan Strome in prime scoring position, Jarvis dove to block the puck, putting his face in front of Strome’s stick. He was hoping it would hit his visor or his helmet. Instead, he punched Jarvis squarely in the mouth and he was unable to sleep most of the night from the pain. He was comforted, however, knowing that the Hurricanes had beaten the Rangers, 3-1, even though his mouth was throbbing.
“I feel like someone is constantly pushing my teeth into my mouth,” Jarvis told reporters before the Hurricanes flew from Raleigh, North Carolina to New York for Game 6 on Saturday. . He added: “It was a game I had to make.”
Jarvis said the injury would “of course” not prevent him from playing on Saturday night. He also said he doesn’t regret the game, which could lead to dental surgery after the season. Right now there was no time for X-rays.
“I’m still having a great time,” he said. “I just can’t smile as well as I used to.”
But the smiles for Carolina seem to only come home lately. The Hurricanes improved to 7-0 at home in the playoffs thanks to tough, sacrificial plays like Jarvis’ on Thursday. But they are 0-5 on the road and became the first team to see their first 12 playoff games won by the home side.
A player throwing his face in front of an oncoming stick is understandable. It’s the Stanley Cup playoffs, and hockey players have been doing this kind of thing for a century.
But trying to figure out why the Hurricanes only won at home and lost all of their games on the road is much more of a mystery, even to Rangers coach Gerard Gallant.
“I don’t understand why this is happening,” Gallant said at the Rangers training center on Friday after the team arrived from Raleigh.
For Rod Brind’Amour, the coach of Carolina, the situation boils down to a series of 12 coincidences, in particular concerning the five defeats.
“It’s not a problem,” Brind’Amour told reporters on Friday. “I know, that’s all I hear about. We didn’t play badly on the road. Our matches went well. There were a few things that went wrong, penalties, then 5v3s and then all of a sudden those games were thrown out. If it had happened at home, it would be the same.
Rangers, now one knockout loss, face what Gallant called a “hopeless game.” They hope the home ice advantage will continue for at least one more game and then end. They trailed the Hurricanes by two games to zero, but won both of their home games to tie the series. If they win Saturday and force a Game 7, it would be Monday – at Raleigh.
Gallant didn’t like the way his team played Thursday. He told reporters his players looked tired. It echoed what he said after the Rangers fell to the Penguins in Pittsburgh in Game 4 of their first-round series, when he said the Rangers played “soft.”
At the time, the Rangers trailed the Penguins three games to one and also faced elimination. But they responded by winning the next three games and advancing to the second round. On Friday, Gallant played down his criticism of the team, both Thursday night and in Pittsburgh earlier in the month. He said the remarks in Pittsburgh had nothing to do with why the team reacted so well.
But something has changed their season, and calling hockey players soft is a stunning verbal jab. Maybe calling them tired will have the same effect.
According to Gallant, it was the players’ inherent understanding of the dire situation they faced in all three games against the Penguins that led to their transformation. He said they understood it now too. And they know playing in front of a cheering crowd at Madison Square Garden seems to boost their game.
“Really confident,” second-year Rangers forward Alexis Lafrenière said Friday. “We know we can come back. We did that in this series and the previous series. It’s about being confident and playing as a team, and that’s what we’re going to do tomorrow.
New York’s sensational goaltender Igor Shesterkin has been instrumental in the team’s comebacks in games and playoffs. Against the Penguins, Shesterkin had two bad games in Pittsburgh and was taken out of both. But then he – and Rangers in general – fixed whatever flaws existed, and since then Rangers, like Carolina, haven’t lost at home.
“He makes us believe we can win any hockey game we play,” Gallant said.
Shesterkin has allowed just 17 goals in his last eight games, or just 2.13 goals per game. He allowed just 13 goals in regulation time in six home playoff games and his only playoff home loss was in triple overtime against Pittsburgh in Game 1, where he made 79 saves. So the Rangers also have a little thing on the home ice.
The first team to undo the spell will win the series. The Hurricanes have the next opportunity on Saturday. To succeed, they’ll have to find a way to replicate the same desperate, heartbreaking approach they employ at home.
“Coming out hot,” Jarvis said. “We usually start slow on the road, so that’s something we have to aim for, get out fast.”