Facing elimination, the Carolina Hurricanes return to the ice at PNC Arena for game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Bruins.
The long odds of winning four straight games in the NHL playoffs to pull out a stunning series win are well-documented and a legitimate long shot. But I really think the impossibility of winning only game 4 is overstated. The Hurricanes rebounded and generally played the better game on Tuesday. Only some perfect storm of power play ineptitude, missing open nets, Tuukka Rask magic and a couple bizarre lucky saves kept the Hurricanes from winning game 3 and climbing back into the series. Would’ve’s and could’ve’s obviously count for nothing this time of year, but I actually think that if the Hurricanes bring the exact same game as Tuesday the odds of winning are greater than 50 percent just needed to catch any kind of puck luck.
At a basic level, there are two keys to winning on Thursday and extending the season for another game.
First, the Hurricanes must show the fortitude to bring the same level of effort and intensity as Tuesday, and that must hold even if they face either an early setback or again are not rewarded for dominating play.
Second, the Hurricanes need to play a focused and cleaner game. The margin for error in this series has been tiny and one of the Hurricanes’ Achilles’ heels has been too many costly errors. Penalty issues and a special teams again reared their head in Tuesday’s loss, and the penalties taken were largely of the unnecessary variety.
If the Hurricanes bring the same effort as Tuesday for 60 minutes, can clean things up a bit and hopefully catch a break or two, game 4 should be another dog fight with a reasonable chance for a season-extending win. The Hurricanes are 2-0 when facing elimination in the 2019 NHL Playoffs, so this is not unfamiliar territory.
My more detailed watch points follow.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Boston Bruins
1) Same start, same intensity
The Hurricanes really were utterly dominant in the first period when playing 5-on-5. The shot count was 17-1 when Justin Williams took his first penalty that generated 4-on-4 hockey and a chance for Boston to play at both ends of the rink and relieve pressure. The Hurricanes need only repeat the same start as Tuesday minus the extracurricular activity, and this game will track toward a win early.
2) Stay out of the penalty box
It goes without saying that this series has been a complete disaster in terms of special teams play this series. Easier than trying to reverse the scales is simply avoiding another special teams affair. Put more directly, the Hurricanes need to focus on the game and not get off track chasing anger, revenge or whatever else.
3) Puck luck
As a team down on its luck right now that legitimately deserved better on Tuesday, the Hurricanes really need to find a couple key plays either via players making plays or even just any kind of random luck. The deciding factor on Tuesday was the Hurricanes inability to mark on the scoreboard during a dominant first period. When Boston scored twice to start the second period, the Hurricanes were forced to stray a bit and start gambling for goals with their defensemen up. The result was a few more chances but also generated the chance for Boston to counter-punch. It might sound odd to put puck luck as a key to a game, but I really think a break or two could be just what it takes to shift momentum and open up the possibility for things to get interesting. So on Thursday, I will be watching see if the Hurricanes can make a play early for an early lead or catch some other break that turns momentum.
The puck drops at 8:07pm at PNC Arena.