There would be no celebration for the “Jerks” this night.
The New York Rangers would not allow the Carolina Hurricanes to stage one Tuesday, combining the timely stops and 43 saves of goalie Henrik Lundqvist with goals by Vladislav Namestnikov and Connor Brickley to take a 2-1 win at PNC Arena.
For a few days, the talk around the Canes -- and NHL -- had centered on comments made by Don Cherry on Hockey Night in Canada. Angered by the Canes’ postgame activities, Cherry called it unprofessional and labeled the Canes a “bunch of jerks.”
But the Rangers found another way to prevent it -- win the game. Let Lundqvist vex the Canes again, as he has so many times.
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For the Canes, it was a damaging loss. With the fight so tight for playoff positions in the Eastern Conference, any regulation loss the rest of the way figures to be a dagger and this one was for Carolina (31-23-6), who remained one point out of a wild-card playoff spot.
“Tough loss because we played well enough, played a good 60 minutes and couldn’t score,” Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “I thought it was our best game we’ve probably played in seven or eight and it just didn’t work out. You come with that mindset and play that hard and I think we’ll be where we want to be at the end of the year.”
That remains to be seen. The Canes have not been in the Stanley Cup playoffs since 2009. A year ago, they were in a similar position after 60 games under former coach Bill Peters and didn’t make it.
“We certainly don’t have the luxury of letting them slip away like we did tonight,” Canes captain Justin Williams said.
Namestnikov’s goal, which gave the Rangers the 2-1 lead, came at 6:10 of the third just after the Canes had first killed off a 5-on-3 power play by New York, then the second penalty on Brock McGinn. Finding the puck loose in the slot off a rebound, Namestnikov eluded Canes forward Saku Maenalanen and slapped it past goalie Curtis McElhinney.
The Canes had their chances to tie it in the final minutes of regulation. Williams, who had 10 shots on net in the game, got off two rapid-fire attempts in close with less than two minutes left that Lundqvist stopped.
“He was good,” Williams said. “We couldn’t get anything past him and when we did his posts were there.”
The Canes did take a 1-0 lead on Jordan Martinook’s 13th of the season at 9:53 of the second. The Canes were 23-5-2 this season when scoring first but the Rangers quickly countered when Connor Brickley tied it.
Brickley’s goal initially was waved off as the forward crashed the net. The ruling: Brickley batted the puck into the net. But after review, it was determined the puck hit his chest and was not batted -- good goal.
Brickley, playing just his third game for the Rangers, has a connection to the Canes. Carolina acquired him in an October 2016 trade and he played in the AHL in 2016-17 with the Charlotte Checkers. When the Vegas Golden Knights made their expansion-draft selections in June 2017, they took Brickley from the Canes.
The Canes shut out the Rangers 3-0 on Feb. 8, ending a 16-game losing streak at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Goalie Petr Mrazek had the shutout -- on a night when the Rangers honored their 1994 Stanley Cup champions -- and also shut out the Dallas Stars this past Saturday, but Brind’Amour went with McElhinney on Tuesday.
“I think this is the way the rest of the season is going to be,” McElhinney said. “It’s going to be tight hockey and it’s going to come down to some bounces. We had some good looks tonight. It’s nothing to hang your head about. It’s a tough loss but you move on.”