After two pretty evenly played games but no results in the win column, the Carolina Hurricanes head to Tampa Bay with the season on the line. A loss on Thursday does not officially end the series, but it represents whatever the closest thing to that is.
With two tightly-contested affairs in which you could make a reasonable case that the Canes deserved better in either or both games, so there is a reasonable case for just staying the course. But in today’s Daily Cup of Joe pondered what, if anything, Brind’Amour should do to stir things up. With Vincent Trocheck likely out of the lineup, some change is necessary regardless.
Aside from the lineup watch points, the drama is full force tonight.
Is this a Hurricanes team that deserved better in games 1 and 2 and will dig down and get what it deserves in game 3? Or is it the group that struggled with basic puck-handling late in game 2 and suffering from waning confidence?
Can a team that was at times an offensive juggernaut during the regular season find a higher gear after struggling mightily to put the puck in the net? Can Brind’Amour and his staff make adjustments to generate more offensive inside the offensive zone with Tampa Bay playing a conservative defensive style that offers very little for offense off the rush?
After a season full of regular season heroes, can the team find one or two players to don a cape when the team desperately needs such a hero in the playoffs?
Against that backdrop, my watch points follow:
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Tampa Bay Lightning
1) Determined or downtrodden?
For the first time literally all season, the Hurricanes seemed to be noticeably fighting it confidence-wise late in game 2 with a case of the yips on a later power play and just in general struggling with basic puck-handling. In the Rod Brind’Amour coaching era, this team has always responded well to adversity. I would expect the same in game 3, but after what I interpreted as some self-doubt in parts of game 2, I will be watching to make sure my expectation is correct.
2) Petr Mrazek
The team’s projected lineup shows Petr Mrazek expected to get the start. I am torn on this one. On the one hand, I think changing things up after consecutive losses makes sense. On the other hand, I think people might underestimate the risk in starting Mrazek. He has played exactly three games in the last three weeks, and two out of three of those were not good outings. Especially early, I will be watching to see if Mrazek can settle in, find a rhythm and get up to playoff game speed from a cold start.
3) Tactical changes
In terms of scoring more there could be an element of just catching a deserved break or two. There could also be an element of just continuing to try to get pucks and bodies to the net until it works. But I also think the ball is in Brind’Amour’s court to try to generate a bit more via adjustments. Tampa Bay has taken a page from the Nashville game plan that consistently sits two defensemen behind the play such that turnovers and transition points tend to at best yield __-on-2 chances. The result has been very little for the Hurricanes off the rush. Combine that will opportunistically cherry-picking a low quantity but reasonably high quality of chances, and Tampa Bay has a decent recipe for a defense/offense combination that is much better than the shot totals suggest.
I see two possible angles for Brind’Amour. First is to make more of a concerted effort to drive the offense in the offensive zone from behind the net instead of from the sides. The Lightning have been very good about minimizing puck movement across the offensive zone. The result is that Vasilevskiy just has to play the puck in front of him in his line of sight which right now is too easy for him. The Hurricanes lone goal on Tuesday came from forcing him to track from behind him to in front of him. Morgan Geekie, who figures to be in the lineup in place of Vincent Trocheck who is listed as doubtful (but did make the trip), has been good in this regard. The other angle is dialing up even more intensity on the forecheck. Whether that will yield much is questionable with teams just flipping the puck over it.
Regardless, I will be watchin to see what Brind’Amour and his staff come up with to try to ignite a sputtering offense.
4) Heroes stepping up
The Hurricanes have reached that point in the season when they desperately need a player or two to step up to keep it from ending. Brock McGinn always has the motor. Andrei Svechnikov finally broke through for a non-empty net goal. Sebastian Aho needs to be the team’s best player offensively but has yet to collect a point in the series. I like Jaccob Slavin using his wheels to generate offense. On Thursday, I will be watching to see who, if anyone, steps up.
The puck drops at 8pm on USA Network.