Some of what follows stems from my (belated) post-game article on game 3 which you can find HERE.
Saturday was a tough day in the Canes quest to win the Stanley Cup. The Canes were mostly stymied and scored only a single gift-wrapped goal on a goalie gaffe. The team lost Andrei Svechnikov to injury. And the deserved 3-1 loss put the team down 2-1 in the best of seven series.
No doubt the trend is negative and has the potential to be the beginning of the end — just because it always does.
But every single great story of Canes playoff jubilation includes a healthy dose of downs that just make the up swing on the playoff roller coaster that much more exhilarating.
Some people asserted that game two was a must-win for the Canes after losing game 1. Recent history of the Capitals series suggests that is not true. More significantly, I think the key factor is not reaching a point where winning three games in a row is required. That does not occur in a seven-game series until a team is down 3-0 or 3-1 in a seven-game series. So with a loss on Monday, the Canes would enter that dangerous territory needing to win three straight which does for me make Monday a must-win game.
So putting things optimistically, Monday’s game represents a tremendous opportunity for the Canes to generate yet another exhilarating upswing on the roller coaster and at the same time make it clear to the Boston Bruins and NHL that they are a worthy foe and destined for a long, hard-fought series.
Against that backdrop, my watch points for Monday’s game follow.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Boston Bruins
1) Lineup changes
After a good first period, the Hurricanes struggled pretty much throughout the remainder of the game to generate offense. Losing Andrei Svechnikov for what looks to be the rest of the series plus more does not help, but Head Coach Rod Brind’Amour has suggested that he will consider adjustments to try to find untapped offense. Other than the top line and decent production from a fourth line that would not be expected to do the heavy lifting, the middle of the Canes lineup has been too quiet. Middle of the lineup forwards who have yet to score in the post-season include Jordan Staal, Justin Williams, Vincent Trocheck (only 2 games) and Ryan Dzingel. Warren Foegele, Nino Niederreiter and Martin Necas have scored only once. In six games only the top trio of Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen and Andrei Svechnikov have notched more than one goal.
Finding more scoring balance from the middle of the lineup seems certain to be a required ingredient if the Hurricanes are to chart a path upward from here.
Could Martin Necas fill Svechnikov’s spot as a wing with speed and skill on Aho’s line?
Could Justin Williams find the net playing with more of a playmaking center?
Is there a combination that helps Vincent Trocheck’s production better match his level of play which has not bee bad?
Time is running short, but these are the types of questions in front of Brind’Amour right now as he tries to chart a course to a game four win that stretches the series to at least six games.
2) Clutch finishing
While there is an element of the Canes maybe not playing at top level, part of the struggles in this series can also be attributed to the Bruins being one of the stingiest teams in the NHL defensively. Part of winning a game or two might simply be finding some opportunistic finishing early to change the complexion of a game or two. In Saturday’s loss, Teravainen hit a post early in the game on the power play, and Aho rang the crossbar in the second period. If one or both of those find the net, would it have changed the outcome? Possibly. Against the Bruins, efficiency in finishing a small number of grade A chances could be the difference.
3) Seeking heroes
Somewhat in the same vein as #2, a game four win and series victory could require a hero of two to lead the way. With Aho leading the way, the Hurricanes had a relatively easy time in the qualification round against the New York Rangers. The comeback from being down 2-0 against the Washington Capitals last year was ignited and fueled by unlikely hero Warren Foegele. To beat a good Bruins team from a 2-1 deficit is going to require a player or two to find a higher gear and play at an elite level. The match up is tough for it, but if Aho breaks through despite the challenge, I think that could be the key, but Foegele’s rise last spring suggests that heroes do not have to come from the most likely options. Now wearing the C and being quiet on the score sheet thus far, could it be Jordan Staal’s time. Regardless, I will be watching on Monday to see if the Hurricanes can have a hero or two step up.
The puck drops at 8pm on Fox Sports Carolinas with Mike, Tripp, Abby and Shane.