Hurricanes fall to Rangers in second meeting in three days amid playoff-like atmosphere

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The Carolina Hurricanes clinched a fifth straight berth in the Stanley Cup playoffs Thursday, despite a loss to the New York Rangers.

The Rangers didn’t make it a fun night for the Canes, though, taking a 2-1 victory at PNC Arena after getting the go-ahead goal from defenseman Adam Fox early in the third period. Goalie Igor Shesterkin finished it out from there.

Shesterkin bested Frederik Andersen this night after the Canes took a 3-2 win Tuesday in New York, finishing with 29 saves.

The Canes were in position to secure a playoff berth outright with a win, but also could back into a playoff spot if certain teams playing Thursday lost. When the Panthers fell to Toronto just moments after the Rangers beat the Canes, Carolina was officially in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the fifth consecutive season.

The Rangers (42-20-10) jumped in front 2-1 four minutes into the third when Fox took a cross-ice pass from Artemi Panarin and beat Andersen high to the blocker side.

Panarin scored in the second period for the Rangers and goalie Igor Shesterkin was at his best much of the night, withstanding offensive flurries by the Canes and moving quickly to his right to deny Jesse Puljujarvi a goal in the second that would have given Carolina a 2-0 lead.

Sebastian Aho scored his 31st of the season in the first period, which ended with the Canes leading 1-0.

It was the second game in three days between the Metropolitan Division teams and easily the more physical of the two. The Canes 48-15-8) won in New York with three third-period goals.

Through the first two periods Thursday, the Canes had the edge in shots and zone time. They controlled the pace of play for the most part.

But one defensive slipup can be costly and it was for both teams — the Rangers in the first and Canes in the second.

Aho’s goal came when defenseman Jacob Trouba didn’t gap up on the center, allowing Aho more than enough room to snap off a wrister that beat Shesterkin.

In the second, the Rangers were in transition and Panarin had a clear shooting lane from the left circle after a tape-to-tape feed from Mika Zibanejad.

The Canes could squeeze little out of their power plays but were at their best on the penalty kill, and especially in the first with the Rangers having 1:49 of a 5-on-3 advantage.

The Canes killed off both penalties with their best killer, Jordan Staal, in the box. The arena was rumbling when the Jack Drury and Staal penalties were killed off, and even louder when Aho scored his 31st at 16:47 of the first.

The Rangers spent a lot of time getting the puck out of their end in the first two periods, but did tie the score on their eighth shot of the game — Panarin with his 24th at 10:33 of the second.

Andersen did deny Panarin later in the period and Shesterkin made his dazzling save on Puljujarvi as the forward nearly had his first goal and point since the trade to Carolina.

Shesterkin also stopped a Brent Burns shot off a faceoff in the Ranger zone in the final minute of the second.

Things turned chippy in the first. Drury was crunched into the boards by Jimmy Vesey and briefly had to leave the game. Later, the Canes Jesperi Kotkaniemi hit Filip Chytil and fell into the Canes bench, his skate popping up and catching Chytil near the visor — neither player was injured on the play.

Of note: Staal played in his 730th game with the Hurricanes, passing former defenseman Glen Wesley for second on the career list behind his brother, Eric (909). Jordan Martinook played in his 300th game with the Canes.