After consecutive losses in Boston to start off the Eastern Conference Finals, the Hurricanes return to Raleigh for what is as close as you can get to a must-win game that is not an elimination game.
After the 6-2 drubbing on Sunday that offered virtually nothing to fuel optimism, one cannot blame Canes fans for feeling a bit negative on the current series. But I think the magnitude of the current down swing measured by mood overstates how dire the situation truly is.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe charts a course to a series rebound.
Acknowledging the need for improvement
An important starting point is to acknowledge that the sheer magic of home ice is not by itself the solution. The Hurricanes do need to correct some issues and simply play better.
The prioritized list in that regard follows:
1) The Hurricanes need to cut down on costly mistakes. The first goal on Sundaywas a soft one on Mrazek. The turning point in game 1 was a run of penalties and some basic coverage issues on the penalty kill. And in general the Hurricanes have gifted too much to the Bruins through two games. That must end. The Hurricanes need to play a cleaner game that forces the Bruins to earn what it gets.
2) The Hurricanes must be able to respond and punch back. At the point where both of the first two game went in the wrong direction, they seemed to end instantly. The Hurricanes must re-find their resiliency and be able to punch back when they get hit. If they are unable to do that, any downturn (and there will be downturns) becomes a death spiral.
3) The forecheck must rise again. Hidden behind all of the bad highlights in games 1 and 2 was the simple fact that the Hurricanes were being attacked more than they were attacking. Through two games, the forecheck has mostly been ineffective. If the former catalyst of the Hurricanes offense continues to be stagnant, the Hurricanes offense looks a bit toothless especially with the power play sputtering.
4) The goaltending needs to be better. After a long layoff, Mrazek has not been as sharp. Two things jump out. First is that he has left a ton of rebounds laying right in front of the crease for easy rebound goals. Second is that Boston is exploiting his aggressiveness challenging the puck. (See notes from last game recap.) The big question here is whether Brind'Amour is patient with Mrazek or thinks it is time to return to McElhinney.
5) The Hurricanes must minimize the special teams effect. Special teams play has been brutal in this series and that gap has shown up on the scoreboard. Through some combination of better special teams play or just taking fewer penalties, the Hurricanes need to decrease the negative that has been special teams.
That seems like a lot. Yes?
At first glance, the list of things that need to improve seems sizable. In terms of volume and magnitude it is. But if one thinks of it in terms of calendar time, the Hurricanes are only about 10 days from having all of these things at least reasonably in order. So this is not so much a need to make massive unprecedented improvements as it is to re-find a higher gear from only a week or so ago.
How might home ice help?
As I said above, I do not think it is as simple as playing at home. The team needs to be better. But I do think there are a couple areas where playing at home can help.
1) The energy level inside PNC Arena does matter. Especially for a team that seemed to have trouble responding after falling behind in games 1 and 2. If needed again, I think the home crowd could provide an emotional boost.
2) Brind'Amour can mark Bergeron's line. Some of the team's puck management and other sloppiness issues resulted from the Bruins being able to get Bergeron's line out in favorable situations. In Raleigh, that trio will see a regular helping of Jordan Staal and also Jaccob Slavin. Can the Hurricanes best defensively play to a draw against the Bruins' top line?
3) Match ups can also seek favorable forecheck match ups. As noted above, the forecheck has been the engine that has fueled the Hurricanes offense in the playoffs. Might home match ups also play a role in trying to overwhelm the Bruins third pairing to the tune of a much-needed gain in transition chances and offensive zone possession time?
Is there significant cause for optimism?
Lost in the current down mood could be the fact that the Hurricanes are 5-0 at home in the playoffs. Some combination of energy, match ups and whatever else has been enough in five consecutive games.
The Hurricanes have already prevailed once in a series that started with an 0-2 deficit when they beat the Capitals in the first round.
The Hurricanes also have a great track record in 2019 for rebounding immediately from ugly losses like Sunday's 6-2 defeat. The Hurricanes bounced back from a 6-0 loss in game 5 with a win in game 6 against the Capitals. Two of the ugliest regular season losses in 2019 were also followed immediately by wins. An 8-1 loss to Winnipeg and a 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning were both followed by wins.
So though the sample size is small, recent history offers legitimate evidence that a rebound is possible.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What weight do you give home ice advantage in terms of a fueling a rebound? To what degree do the Hurricanes just need to play better regardless of venue?
2) What, if any, tactical advantage with last change on home ice will make the biggest difference?