RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The New York Rangers looked headed for an easy push through the second round of the NHL playoffs when they quickly moved within a win of a sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes.

Instead, the Hurricanes have grinded their way back in the series, and the pressure is building on the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Rangers to close this one out.

After winning the first three games in the best-of-7 series, the Rangers have lost two in a row — the most recent coming when they allowed four unanswered goals in the third period to lose Game 5 at Madison Square Garden. That has them headed back to Raleigh for Thursday’s Game 6, with Carolina having home-ice advantage and the chance to even the series.

“Putting teams away is I think something (where) you know it’s going to be a good battle, it’s going to be a good grind, because they’re playing for their lives,” Rangers coach Peter Laviolette told reporters in New York on Wednesday.

“In order to get to that point for the fourth win, you’ve really got to make sure your game is on point as well.”

New York swept Washington in Round 1 and reached 7-0 in the playoffs after three one-goal wins to start this series, with Games 2 and 3 coming i n overtime. But the Hurricanes successfully beat back their power-play struggles for the Game 4 winner, and then stared down a 1-0 deficit with elimination looming with a dominating finish on Monday.

Laviolette said the Rangers “know where we’re at,” while captain Jacob Trouba — whose short-handed goal in Game 5 was New York’s only score — said the team has responded before from bad outings.

“We had one, now it’s time to respond to it,” Trouba said Wednesday.

Back in Raleigh, the tone in Carolina’s locker room differed little from Laviolette’s assessment.

“The situation hasn’t changed one bit for us,” Carolina top center Sebastian Aho said.

Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour sounded overly optimistic when the team fell behind 3-0 by saying Carolina was playing well in key areas, that it needed improvements while sticking largely with the same approach. After the past two games, his team has offered some validation for that belief; Carolina is outscoring New York for the series overall 16-15 and 12-9 at even strength.

In fact, the Rangers’ edge has been clear in special teams, where they have four scores on the power play and two short-handed goals. The Hurricanes, meanwhile, are 1 for 20 (5%) in the series on the power play after ranking second in the regular season at 26.9%.

But Carolina’s penalty kill, ranked No. 1 in the league in the regular season at 86.4%, has come through with eight straight stops going back to Game 3 while allowing 10 shots on goal in those chances.

Carolina also had defenseman Brett Pesce back on the ice for Wednesday’s practice. The second-pairing defenseman hasn’t played since Game 2 of the first-round series against the New York Islanders with a lower-body injury, through Brind’Amour has continued to sound doubtful Pesce will return this series after some initial optimism from president and general manager Don Waddell.

Still, a Carolina win Thursday would put the Hurricanes within a victory of becoming only the fifth NHL team to win a playoff series after trailing 3-0.

“We’re still down 3-2,” forward Seth Jarvis said. “We’re still in the same position were were the last two games. We have to win to keep playing.”

OILERS at CANUCKS, Tied at 2-2, 10 p.m. EDT (TNT)

Edmonton blew a 2-0 lead in Game 4 yet beat Vancouver anyway on a late score by Evan Bouchard, tying the series while relying on a backup goaltender. That left the Oilers and Canucks in two very different positions entering Thursday’s Game 5.

The Oilers went with Calvin Pickard in net for his first postseason start, and the 32-year-old responded with 19 saves and carrying a shutout into the third period. He replaced Stuart Skinner, who allowed four goals on 15 shots in a Game 3 loss.

It was Pickard’s first action since April 18.

Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch didn’t rule out staying with Pickard after Game 4, saying his performance “allows us to have a lot of confidence in him if we did do that.”

Vancouver has been relying on 23-year-old Arturs Silovs in net since Thatcher Demko and backup Casey DeSmith suffered lower-body injuries in Round 1 against Nashville.

Coach Rick Tocchet said Silovs was “solid” after finishing with 27 saves, but was blunt about the performance of multiple players he described as “passengers” in a playoff push.

“We’ve been a resilient group all year, but we need five or six guys to get going here,” Tocchet said.


The Canadian Press contributed to this report.


AP NHL playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://apnews.com/hub/nhl