After consecutive losses in Boston to start the series and an especially rough 6-2 defeat on Sunday, the Hurricanes return home seeking a boost and a win to climb into the series.
The game is as close to must-win as can be without being an elimination. The odds are incredibly long for teams down 3-0 in playoff series.
But all is not lost. The long version is detailed in Today’s Daily Cup of Joe entitled, “Making the case for a Canes rebound.” The short version is that this team is 5-0 on home ice in the playoffs, has shown resiliency after past bad defeats and has already successfully navigated this road after being down 2-0 to the Capitals and emerging with a series win.
More than anything, the Hurricanes just need a complete reset such that their game in total looks very little like what happened in Boston and much more like what happened in most of the games versus Washington.
My more specific watch points for today’s critical game follow.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Boston Bruins
1) Pace, pressure and forecheck
In these playoffs, the forecheck has been the catalyst for everything else. When the forecheck is effective everything else follows. The forecheck generates offensive zone possession time and a decent volume of scoring chances spread across the entire lineup. And the forecheck significantly decreases how much the team has to defend and how dangerous those chances are.
Through two games, the Hurricanes forecheck has largely been ineffective except for a short burst in the second period of game 1. On the surface, the hope is that the Hurricanes just need to find a higher gear or get going. But my fear is that the Bruins are just very well equipped and coached to counteract the Hurricanes pressure. A strength of the Bruins is a heady group of forwards who are do a great job of creating quick safe outlets for defensemen under pressure. The result often is that the Bruins get the puck behind or around the first two forecheckers quickly. At that point, there is plenty of space and less pressure in the middle of the rink.
On Tuesday, I will be watching to see if some combination of home energy, finding a higher gear, match ups and/or minor adjustments can help the Hurricanes forecheck find its higher gear.
2) A cleaner game
A hallmark of the two losses has been a massive uptick in errors. Game 1 swung on a run of penalties and some ‘iffy’ coverage in front of the net on the penalty kill. Game 2 saw Mrazek let in a soft goal early and significant problems in terms of puck management. More generally, the Hurricanes shot themselves in the foot far too often in the first two game. To beat a good Bruins team will require a cleaner game across the board. Especially right out of the gate, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can reset and play a cleaner, crisper game.
After a 6-0 shellacking at the hands of the Capitals in game 5 of round 1, Brind’Amour stuck with Petr Mrazek and the result was two consecutive wins to win the series. The difference might be that Mrazek was really not the problem in the Washington loss, but that he really was not great in either game in Boston. We likely will not find out until near game time who the Hurricanes starter will be. Will Brind’Amour continue to ride Mrazek looking for a rebound? Or could the calm of McElhinney be just what the team needs to settle down right now? Regardless of who starts, the Hurricanes will need a strong effort in net on Tuesday.
4) Special teams
Special teams have been a problem in this series. Ideal would be for the Hurricanes to play this game 5-on-5 and just not have to worry about it. But in the event that special teams do come into play, the Hurricanes desperately need to find some kind of an answer on the penalty kill. I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can both clean up unnecessary penalties and survive a penalty kill or two if they have to.
The Canes go for 6-0 at PNC Arena in the playoffs. The puck drops at 8:07pm.