Up 1-0 on Rangers, Hurricanes' D-men adding vital offense

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The Carolina Hurricanes are getting the offensive production they need so far from their blue liners in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Hurricanes outlasted the Boston Bruins in a seven-game series with defensemen Jaccob Slavin and Tony DeAngelo leading the team in points. Then they rallied to beat the New York Rangers to open their second-round playoff series on an overtime goal from Ian Cole.

They head into Friday night’s Game 2 (8 p.m. EDT, ESPN) looking to go 6-0 at home in the playoffs.

“It’s the game the last four or five years for sure,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said Thursday. “We’ve been preaching that for a long time. It’s a five-man unit out there. It has to be, otherwise you’re never going to score. Everybody has to be involved. All the teams are doing it.”

That’s true, whether it's defensemen pushing up into the offensive zone or firing from the point on the power play. Through Wednesday's games, Colorado’s Cale Makar and the Rangers’ Adam Fox were leading all defensemen with 10 playoff points. DeAngelo, Slavin and Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman were all next with eight.

Fox and DeAngelo were tied with Makar with seven postseason assists to lead the position. Slavin and Hedman each have six.

DeAngelo, a former Rangers player, had two three-point games in the Bruins series. Slavin came through with two assists in Game 7 to go with his typical strong defensive play.

“Teams that win,” Carolina center Vincent Trocheck said, “you see a lot of guys get on the scoresheet.”

As for the Rangers, the 24-year-old Fox is thriving in his first set of best-of-7 series. He had played against the Hurricanes in Carolina’s three-game sweep in the Toronto bubble in 2020, but didn't tally a point.

He had at least one point in all seven games of the comeback series win against Pittsburgh in the first round, highlighted by a four-assist showing in the Game 6 win.

“His hockey IQ, his skill level – he’s a smart player,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said. “He does the right thing with the puck most of the time. He just continues to play well for us.”

At minimum, it’s the kind of production that can only ease some of the offensive burden on forwards like Carolina’s Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov, or New York’s trio of Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider.

That could be even more vital considering this is a matchup of teams that surrendered the fewest regular-season goals in the NHL.

OILERS at FLAMES, Calgary leads series 1-0 (10:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN)

The Battle of Alberta opened with a wild goalfest. The question now is how the defenses – and goaltenders, in particular – avoid a repeat after the teams combined for 15 goals in Game 1.

Calgary’s 9-6 win came despite blowing leads of 5-1 and 6-2 before Edmonton rallied to tie it at 6-all. Edmonton goaltender Mike Smith lasted just 6:05 into the game before being pulled after surrendering three goals. Mikko Koskinen allowed five goals on 37 shots.

Factoring out an empty-net score, the Oilers’ netminders allowed 17% of Calgary’s shots on goal to find the back of the net. Coach Jay Woodcroft said Thursday that he’d go back to Smith for Game 2.

“If they won it 2-1 or 9-6, it’s still one win and you’ve got to win four,” Smith said. “It’s about regrouping now and not letting that effect the rest of the series, moving on and focusing on Game 2.”

Things weren’t much better for the Flames’ Jacob Markstrom, who stopped just 22 of 28 shots on goal (78.6%).

“We hung six goals on their starting goaltender in their building,” Woodcroft said. “There’s things we have to do better to take care of our own end.”

All six goals by Edmonton came at even strength after they managed just three shots on four power plays. That came after they had converted at 43.8% against Calgary in four regular-season meetings.

“The guys were great in front of me. I’ve got to be better,” Markstrom said. “Everyone knows that. Myself included.”

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The Canadian Press contributed to this report.

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Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at https://twitter.com/aaronbeardap

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More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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