Hurricanes vs. Rangers is heading towards mutually assured NHL destruction

The Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers are putting on a damn show. In what’s become the best series of the Stanley Cup Playoffs so far, the Canes clawed back on Monday night at Madison Square Garden to bring the Rangers’ series advantage to 3-2. Now both teams return to Raleigh where the Rangers are desperate to just shut the door on this series and escape, while the Canes are surging back with a belief they can steal victory from the jaws of defeat.

Everything about these games have been perfect. There’s emotion, bad blood, romanticism, and a feeling that at any second on any night either team could get the W.

It’s also a damn shame, because it feels like whoever wins is going to be fed into a meat grinder after this.

It definitely sounds like sour grapes if you’re a Rangers or Canes fan, but the structure of the Stanley Cup Playoffs feels extremely unfair, especially this year. New York finished 1st in the Eastern Conference, Carolina finished 2nd — and yet they’re facing each other to try and get into the Eastern Conference Final, while the Florida Panthers (3rd) get to play the struggling Boston Bruins (4th) in a series they’re currently leading 3-1 and seem like a lock to move on.

This is the NHL’s unique playoff structure, which mandates that each of hockey’s four divisions get settled first, before anyone can move onto the conference final. It works perfectly if there’s parity between the divisions but gets thrown off-kilter if one is dominant.

There is no doubt in watching the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs that the Rangers and Canes are the class of the East. Victory has balanced on a razor’s edge across each of their five games so far.

Game 1: Rangers 4, Hurricanes 3
Game 2: Rangers 4, Hurricanes 3 (2OT)
Game 3: Rangers 3, Hurricanes 2 (OT)
Game 4: Hurricanes 4, Rangers 3
Game 5: Hurricanes 4, Rangers 1

Not only have four of the five games been settled by one goal, but the head-to-head goals in this series are now 16-to-15 in favor of the Hurricanes. There are no teams more closely matched, and they’re absolutely destroying each other physically by throwing metaphorical haymakers, as well as literal ones in a series that has seen 50 penalties already.

The drain both teams are seeing is definitely setting in. The Hurricanes are in the middle of a massive adrenaline dump that’s seen them get their game together after three horrific outings to start the series in which their power play was soft, couldn’t put anything together offensively, and were far too undisciplined defensively.

Meanwhile the Rangers had a stranglehold on this series thanks to brilliant defense and incredible scoring chances, but now have doubt creeping in — and listening to players they’re hardly convincing when it comes to their ability to get this one back under control.

So now we have the two best teams in hockey who are fighting in this second round series like the Stanley Cup is on the line. Meanwhile in Florida the Panthers are more or less coasting against the Bruins in a weirdly uneven series where it’s more about who decides to compete on any given night, rather than a tightly contested series.

This is so monumentally bad for either the Rangers or Canes that it can’t be overstated. Once more the Panthers are perfectly positioned to make the Stanley Cup Finals. They have a team built to prey on exhausted opponents, which is a major factor of what the Bruins are going through right now. Florida’s grinding defense, which allowed only 200 goals this season, backed up by Sergei Bobrovsky in goal is infuriating at the best of times, and when you’re coming off a brutal series it’s designed to break you.

Whether it be the Hurricanes or Rangers, they feel destined to be broken. Mutually assured destruction at its highest level, and once more the Panthers are set to benefit.

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