After a tough struggle battling the Boston Bruins and the referees in Boston and a hard-earned split of the first two games, the series now moves to Raleigh where the Canes gain a sizable advantage from the electric atmosphere in PNC Arena………
Sadly and more seriously, the series does shift a bit after two games. I think those who were calling game two a must-win for the Hurricanes missed the 2019 NHL Playoffs. A two-game deficit is nearly impossible in a five-game series because it requires winning three straight. But in a seven-game series a 2-0 deficit especially with a flip to home team/last change is far from insurmountable. That said, getting back to even before gaining a bit more control of match ups is a great place to be for the Hurricanes.
My pre-game posts and writing in general are heavy with trying to analyze and dissect all kinds of details like match ups, how players will/must/did perform and other things. But I really think the Canes win in game two had very little to do with that and much more to do with finding a higher gear in terms of determination and compete. As I said in my post-game notes, the game seemed to shift to ‘random and frenetic’ at about the midway point of the game. Though that was not always pretty, it clearly benefited the Hurricanes who seemed faster to pucks and better able to drive results out of the chaos. That quest for more ‘random and frenetic’ features in my game preview as done the Hurricanes having last change.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Boston Bruins
1) Seeking ‘random and frenetic’
I have no idea who flipped the switch midway through game two, but I would love to buy him or her a beer or coffee. Whether it was the Canes being a bit more desperate of possibly fed up with officiating or if maybe it just took the team some time to get back up to speed after a week off, the game looked different starting at about the midway point. After four periods that seemed to feature much more of each team trying to advance the puck out of the defensive zone, through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone to set up offense, the latter half of Thursday’s game was just more ‘scrambly’ and seemed to be a better fit for the Canes aggressiveness and quickness as compared to dumping pucks and trying to forecheck against a team that was is very good at advancing the puck as a five-man unit. So on Saturday I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can again drive the game into the frenetic mode that seemed to be to their advantage.
2) Match ups on ‘home ice’
Per my introduction, it saddens me that game three will not be at PNC Arena in front of a raucous home crowd, but the rules of the NHL that give the home team last change on face-offs still makes home team status significant in terms of controlling match ups in the game. After going with the same top-heavy first line of Teravainen/Aho/Svechnikov that rolled over the Rangers in game one, Brind’Amour moved Svechnikov to Vincent Trocheck’s line to balance the offense and stop the Bruins from loading up defensively against a single line. The move paid huge dividends. Svechnikov scored and had a pretty assist (that was on the power play), and Martin Necas assisted on Svechnikov’s goal and also Dougie Hamilton’s game-winner. Almost always voting for ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, I would expect Brind’Amour to again start with Svechnikov on Trocheck’s line. But if things are not clicking and he wants to try to find a spark, the potential is there to reunite Svechniko with Aho and Teravainen and to seek out favorable match ups for the trio. More interesting might be watching who Brind’Amour wants to play against Marchand/Bergeron/Pastrnak (if he is back in the lineup). Best guess is that Brind’Amour will load up against that line marking them with Jordan Staal’s line and Jaccob Slavin and Dougie Hamilton as much as possible. Regardless, a watch point especially early in the game is how Brind’Amour plays the match ups in the first game where he has some control of that.
In a series that has featured two games that were both tied late (and into overtime for the first one) the margin for error in net is tiny and has the potential to be the difference in any game. Thus far in the playoffs, the Hurricanes netminding has been a strength. I had Petr Mrazek as a positive in game one despite ultimately being the losing goalie and allowing four games in four plus periods of action. But what does stand out about that game is the fact that two of the Bruins goals did come at least partially as a result of Mrazek’s aggressive play leaving a big swath of net to shoot at. I have heard people say that it could be easy to beat him with an extra pass across to the other side of the net. The problem with that is that to some degree that is the case with every goal; if you can make a pass across onto a shooters stick and quickly finish, there generally are goals to be had. Also, those passing lanes are hard to find. But with the Bruins, their top line has the skill and precision to try to exploit Mrazek’s sometimes overaggressiveness more than a run of the mill NHL line. In that regard, I think Reimer might be the better option in net especially given how well he has played in his two playoff starts. But with Brind’Amour’s track record so far in using both goalies and the somewhat short turnaround from a Thursday 8pm start to an early Saturday 12pm start, my hunch is that Brind’Amour does stay the course and go back to Mrazek. That would make Monday a pivot point in terms of starting goalie based on Saturday’s result and goalie play. I correctly called Mrazek for game 1 versus the Rangers, Reimer for game 3 and also Mrazek then Reimer against the Bruins but am admittedly less certain about Saturday’s starter. Regardless, the position is obviously critical in a series with little margin for error.
4) Jordan Staal’s line
Jordan Staal’s line has been pretty quiet on the score sheet in the playoffs, but I think games three and four with last change could be just what the doctor ordered to give Jordan Staal and his line mates purpose and a defined role. Best guess is that Brind’Amour will utilize them heavily against Bergeron’s line. In that role, Staal’s line will be a positive if it can be break even with even a 0-0 tally. Staal has not been as dominant in that shutdown role during the 2019-20 NHL campaign, but timing might be right for Brind’Amour to challenge Staal and his line mates with this big assignment for the next two games. If that does in fact happen, how Staal and company fare in this mission will likely be a significant factor in the next two games.
The puck drops at an early 12pm on Fox Sports Carolina with Mike, Tripp, Abby and Shane or on NBC with John and the lesser Mike. (Someone correct me if I am wrong about Forslund doing this game for NBC.)