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The New York Rangers had the NHL’s best regular-season record. The Carolina Hurricanes finished directly in their rearview mirror, three points back — and objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.

“The Rangers were the best team, and we were on their heels all year,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “You gotta get through the best at some point, so might as well have at it now.”

They meet in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, after the Rangers swept the Washington Capitals and the Hurricanes eliminated the New York Islanders in five games. Game 1 of their series is Sunday (4 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN+).

The last time these teams collided was in the second round of the 2022 playoffs, a series the Rangers won in seven games. Center Vincent Trocheck was on that Hurricanes team, scoring three goals in the series. He’s now a key forward on the Rangers.

“It was a battle. But it’s two completely different teams now. A lot of new guys since I’ve been there,” he said. “But still the same style of hockey [in Carolina].”

One constant is Brind’Amour behind the Hurricanes bench. He and Rangers coach Peter Laviolette have a unique history: In 2006, Laviolette coached the Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup … and Brind’Amour was his captain.

The similarities between these titans of the East don’t end there. Here are five things that could swing this incredibly tight series in either direction.

Can the Rangers thrive at 5-on-5?

By now, the Rangers’ vulnerabilities at 5-on-5 play are canon. We wrote about them in December. We wrote about them again in April.

They did little to dispel those concerns against the Capitals, with a 38.8% expected goals percentage at 5-on-5 in their sweep. But score effects were a big part of that disparity, especially on offense: The Rangers were tied for just 13 minutes and 50 seconds in the series and trailed for just 17 seconds at 5-on-5.

New York is considered an underdog by many in this series, a notion that tracks to how middling it is when it is not on special teams, combined with how dominant the Hurricanes have been at 5-on-5. Carolina earned 59.5% of the shot attempts in the regular season, best in the league. They were second in expected goals percentage (56.9%), while the Rangers were 22nd overall (49%). That’s been a hallmark of Brind’Amour’s teams.

It should be noted that the Rangers have improved at 5-on-5 (51.8% expected goals percentage) since adding Jack Roslovic and Alex Wennberg to the lineup at the trade deadline.

Of course, the Hurricanes were still rolling at a 59.3% expected goals percentage after the deadline themselves.

“When it comes to how you run your offense, you have to look at how a team defends,” Laviolette said. “It does change a little bit for me based on what the D-zone coverage is doing.”

Under Laviolette, the Rangers have played a tough, simplified game that involves quick puck movement. That’s helped them find better results than last season, when they were overwhelmed by the speed of a team such as the New Jersey Devils, who eliminated them in the first round.

Carolina also moves the puck fast, but it moves its skates faster.

“It’s just fast hockey. They’ll swarm at times. They can get going, and you’ve just kind of got to keep your cool in your own zone and get the puck out and live to fight another day. They come in waves,” Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba said.

Brind’Amour felt that the 5-on-5 battle was going to be a tight one defensively. “They give you no room because they’re a good team,” he said.

One wild card for the Rangers: Center Filip Chytil, who’s been practicing with the team but hasn’t played since Nov. 2 due to a suspected concussion. He had four goals in seven games against Carolina in 2022, all of them at 5-on-5.

This series features two starting goaltenders who have hit their strides at the right time.

Even as the Rangers were stacking wins, Shesterkin was inconsistent earlier in the season, leading to backup Jonathan Quick getting 26 starts. But Shesterkin had a .918 save percentage and 5.9 goals saved above average in his 14 games since the NHL trade deadline.

Following a 4-1-0 start, doctors discovered a blood clotting issue affecting Andersen. He missed 49 games over a four-month span. Following his return to the lineup, Andersen posted a 9-1-0 record, 1.30 goals-against average, .951 save percentage and three shutouts. He led the NHL with 11.6 goals saved above average in that span, per Natural Stat Trick.

Andersen was named a finalist for the Masterton Trophy awarded “to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.”

Shesterkin had better numbers in the first round with a .931 save percentage and a 1.75 goals-against average. Andersen had a .912 save percentage with a 2.25 GAA. Shesterkin faced more high-danger shot attempts per 60 minutes (7.47) than did Andersen (6.6), but both netminders saw their teams keep the heat off of them at even strength.

Andersen lost his only start against the Rangers this season, but stopped 24 of 26 shots. Shesterkin was 2-1 against the Hurricanes with a .915 save percentage and one shutout.

Of course, when discussing the Hurricanes, it’s never just one goalie in the conversation. Rookie Pyotr Kochetkov started 40 games for the Canes in the regular season, posting a .911 save percentage. He faced the Rangers twice in that 2022 series.

“There will be time when we’re going to rely on everyone on this team and he’s going to be a part of that,” Andersen said.

Will a revamped Carolina offense put it over?

Brind’Amour has coached the Hurricanes since the 2018-19 season. They’ve made the conference finals twice since then, including last season, when they were swept by the Florida Panthers in four straight one-goal games.

That encapsulated a frequent postseason issue for the Hurricanes: For all of their puck possession and shot attempts, they’ve often been unable to conjure up a goal at a critical time to swing a game or a series. It’s been one of the starker differences between the Rangers and the Hurricanes: Despite New York’s average play at 5-on-5, it finishes chances it creates more efficiently than Carolina.

The Hurricanes have traditionally not chased high-profile offensive rentals at the NHL trade deadline. That changed this season when they won the derby for Pittsburgh Penguins pending free agent winger Jake Guentzel. He’s an elite top-line talent who drives play and finishes chances. He’s also been one of the most effective playoff performers in the NHL over the past several seasons, with 62 points in 63 games, including four points in five games against the Islanders.

Carolina also added former Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov at the deadline. After registering seven points in 20 regular-season games, he had four points in five games in the first round.

Guentzel was plugged onto the Hurricanes’ top line with Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov.

Ask around the team and the fact that Svechnikov is in this series might be more important than any trade deadline pickup. He had five points in five games against the Islanders after missing the postseason in 2023 due to an ACL tear. He’s a difference-maker.

Can the Panarin line level up?

Artemi Panarin blamed himself for the Rangers’ first-round exit last season, tallying just two assists in seven games and skating to a minus-2 rating. He refocused in the offseason, symbolically shaving his head, and returned to have a career year: 120 points in 82 games, including 49 goals.

In his return to the playoffs, Panarin was solid: two goals and an assist in four games. The Rangers had such an advantage against the overmatched Capitals that they really didn’t need Panarin to carry them. That likely changes against the Hurricanes, given how tight this series will be played.

But that’s not just on Panarin. His line with Trocheck and Alexis Lafreniere had as many scoring chances at 5-on-5 as they surrendered in four games against the Capitals (20). They were slightly underwater in expected goals percentage (49%). The Rangers need this line to be better than one that trades chances with opponents.

The special teams stalemate?

The Rangers feed off their power play, which ranked third in the regular season (26.4%). They used it to close out three of their four victories against the Capitals, going 6-for-16 in the opening round. Not to be outdone was their penalty kill, which ranked No. 3 in the regular season (84.5%) and didn’t allow a Capitals power-play goal in three of the four games. In fact, they had as many short-handed goals as the Capitals had power-play goals (2) in the sweep.

New York would have a special teams advantage over anyone in the playoffs.

Well, almost anyone.

The Hurricanes had the best penalty kill (86.4%) and second-best power play (26.9%) in the regular season. In the first round against the Islanders, the Canes went 5-for-15 with the man advantage — although they did allow three power-play goals on 11 opportunities to the Islanders.

“As you get deeper in the playoffs, it gets more and more important,” Trouba said. “All the teams at this point have good power plays and good penalty kills.”

Back in their 2022 series, the Rangers’ power play was the difference, with seven goals vs. just two tallies for the Hurricanes. But that Carolina power play wasn’t nearly as good as this one, with Guentzel (11 power-play points in 22 games with the Hurricanes) now on the top unit.

This might be the most even matchup of the series — at least on paper — so to have it tip in either direction could tip the series as well.

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Tigers blow 5-run lead, rally with 3-run HR in 9th




Tigers blow 5-run lead, rally with 3-run HR in 9th

DETROIT — Matt Vierling homered twice, including a tiebreaking, three-run drive off Jordan Romano in the ninth inning that gave Detroit a wild 14-11 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday after the Tigers wasted a five-run lead and recovered from a two-run deficit.

Vierling had four hits and tied career highs with two homers and four RBIs.

“My brother and I in the back yard, we’d always be doing situations like that,” Vierling said. “It’s kind of cool when it actually happens.”

Carson Kelly hit a three-run homer and Spencer Torkelson hit a solo shot for Detroit, which led 5-0 after three innings, 8-3 after five and 9-5 after six. The Tigers set a season high for runs and tied their high with 17 hits.

Torkelson had three hits and scored three runs.

“He’s really easy to root for,” Torkelson said of Vierling. “To see him come through, we had all the faith in the world and confidence he’d get the job done there. That’s exactly what he did.”

Toronto’s Isiah Kiner-Falefa homered in the seventh off Tyler Holton, and the Blue Jays took an 11-9 lead with a five-run eighth when Bo Bichette hit a two-run single off Jason Foley and Daulton Varsho hit a three-run homer.

Toronto manager John Schneider drew some consolation by the way his team kept fighting back.

“It’s easy to kind of quit after that and the guys did the exact opposite,” he said. “Chipped away and came back with huge hits from Bo and Varsh.”

Mark Canha tied the score with a two-run single against Yimi Garcia in the bottom half, his third hit.

Vierling, who hit a solo homer in the fifth off Zach Pop, drove a full-count slider from Romano (1-2) over the left-field wall for his first big league walk-off hit. A two-time All-Star, Romano has allowed three homers this year, half his total last season.

“I was ready for that pitch that he threw me 3-2,” Vierling said. “I was kind of looking for it 2-2, as well, but it was low and I was able to check my swing enough. The next pitch was the same pitch, just a little more up.”

Mason Englert (1-0) pitched a hitless ninth for the Tigers (26-27), who won the last three games of a four-game series against the last-place Blue Jays (23-29).

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. had his second four-hit game of the season for the Blue Jays.

Detroit starter Casey Mize gave up three runs and eight hits in 4⅓ innings. Toronto’s Yusei Kikuchi allowed five runs and eight hits in three innings. Mize and Kikuchi are 0-3 each in their six starts.

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Braves’ Acuna leaves game with knee soreness




Braves' Acuna leaves game with knee soreness

PITTSBURGH — Ronald Acuna Jr. left the Atlanta Braves8-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first inning Sunday with left knee soreness after his knee appeared to buckle.

The reigning National League MVP led off the game with a double to right-center field off Martin Perez. With Marcell Ozuna at the plate, Acuna started toward third on a stolen base attempt and his left knee appeared to buckle. He remained down for several minutes while being treated, pointing at his left leg before walking off under his own power.

Acuna, a 26-year-old outfielder, is batting .250 with four home runs and 15 RBIs in 49 games. The four-time All-Star hit a career-best .337 last season with 41 homers and 106 RBIs.

Adam Duvall shifted from left to right in the bottom half, and Jarred Kelenic entered the game in place of Acuna and played left.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Royals’ Massey again on IL with low back injury




Royals' Massey again on IL with low back injury

The Kansas City Royals placed second baseman Michael Massey on the 10-day injured list Sunday because of a low back ligament sprain.

In a corresponding move, the Royals recalled shortstop Nick Loftin from Triple-A Omaha.

Massey homered in the fifth inning of the Royals’ 8-1 victory over the host Tampa Bay Rays on Friday. He exited the game in the next inning and did not play Saturday.

He also missed the start of the season with a lower back strain.

“It’s more of the same, what he has been dealing with since the spring, just some tightness,” Royals manager Matt Quatraro said. “We’re going to have to take his lead on it and manage it. He’s feeling better, moving around and exercising, but we’re going to have to manage it day to day.”

Massey, 26, is hitting .294 with six home runs and 23 RBIs in 29 games. He has a .306 on-base percentage, .529 slugging percentage and .835 OPS.

Loftin hit .276 (8-for-29) in 13 games with Kansas City this season. He is batting .308 (28-for-91) in 32 career games.

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