Seth Jarvis, rookie center for the Carolina Hurricanes, looked like a puffy playoff player on Friday.
With the game in balance on Thursday night and Rangers forward Ryan Strome in a terrific position to score, Jarvis dived to block the puck and found himself in front of Strome’s stick. He hoped it would hit him in his visor or helmet. Instead, it hit Jarvis right in the mouth, and he couldn’t sleep most of the night due to the pain. However, he was elated knowing that the Hurricanes had beaten the Rangers 3-1, even though his mouth hurt.
“It feels like someone is constantly putting teeth in my mouth,” Jarvis told reporters before the Hurricanes flew out of Raleigh, North Carolina, to New York for Game 6 on Saturday. He added, “It was a game which I should have played.
Jarvis said the injury would “certainly” not prevent him from playing Saturday night. He also said he had no regrets about the game, which could lead to post-season dental surgery. Haven’t had time for x-ray yet.
“I’m still having a great time,” he said. “I just can’t smile as well as I used to.”
But lately smiles come to Carolina only at home. The Hurricanes improved their lead to 7-0 at home in the playoffs thanks to persistent, dedicated play like Jarvis did on Thursday. But they are 0-5 away and became the first team to have their first 12 playoff games won by the home team.
A player throwing a face in front of an oncoming stick is understandable. This is the Stanley Cup playoffs, and hockey players have been doing this for a century.
But trying to figure out why the Hurricanes have only won at home and lost every game on the road remains a mystery even to Rangers coach Gerard Gallan.
“I don’t understand why this is happening,” Gallant said at the Rangers training ground on Friday as the team arrived from Raleigh.
For Rod Brind’Amour, Carolina’s coach, it comes down to a 12-match streak, especially with five losses.
“That’s not a problem,” Brind’Amour told reporters on Friday. “I know, that’s all I’ve heard about. We didn’t play well away. Our games were ok. There were a few things that went like clockwork: penalties and then 5 on 3 and then, all of a sudden, those games were dropped. If it happened at home, it would be the same.”
The Rangers, having lost one relegation loss, faced what Gallant called a “desperate game”. They hope the advantage on home ice will last at least one more game and then stop. They trailed the Hurricanes by two games, but won both home games to tie the series. If they win on Saturday and force Game 7, it will be Monday – in Raleigh.
Galant didn’t like the way his team played on Thursday. He told reporters that his players looked tired. It was reminiscent of what he said after the Rangers lost to the Penguins in Pittsburgh in Game 4 of their first-round series when he said the Rangers were playing “softly.”
At the time, the Rangers were trailing the Penguins three games to one and also faced relegation then. But they responded with a victory in the next three games and advanced to the second round. On Friday, Gallant downplayed his criticism of the team both on Thursday night and in Pittsburgh earlier in the month. He said the remarks in Pittsburgh had nothing to do with why the team responded so well.
But something has turned their season upside down, and calling players soft is a devastating verbal blow. Perhaps making them tired would have the same effect.
For 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 that they understand it even now. And they know that playing in front of a noisy crowd at Madison Square Garden seems to strengthen their game.
“Really sure,” Rangers second-year forward Alexis Lafrenière said Friday. “We know we can come back. We did it in this and the previous series. It’s about us being confident and playing as a team and that’s what we’re going to do tomorrow.”
Igor Shesterkin, New York’s sensational goaltender, has been instrumental in the team’s comebacks in games and streaks. Against the Penguins, Shesterkin played two poor games in Pittsburgh and was pulled from both. But then he – and the Rangers as a whole – corrected all the shortcomings that were, and since then the Rangers, like the Carolinas, have not lost at home.
“He makes us believe that we can win any hockey game we play,” Gallant said.
Shesterkin has conceded only 17 goals in his last eight games, for a total of 2.13 goals per game. He allowed only 13 goals in regulation time in six home playoff games, and his only loss at home in the postseason was in a triple overtime against Pittsburgh in Game 1, where he made 79 saves. So the Rangers also have something like home ice.
The Hurricanes have their next opportunity to break the spell on Saturday. To succeed, they will have to find a way to replicate the same desperate, heart-pounding approach they use at home.
“Hot exit,” Jarvis said. “We usually start slow on the road, so that’s what we should aim for to get out fast.”