The Carolina Hurricanes entered the Monday match up against the Boston Bruins desperately needing a win to pull back to 2-2 in the series and assure a long series of at least six games.
And through two periods, the Hurricanes had exactly that in hand. By no means were the Hurricanes dominant, but courtesy of at least even play and some opportunistic scoring, the Hurricanes entered the third period with a 2-0 lead.
Then it happened.
The Hurricanes completely unraveled and imploded. The result was a third period full of mistakes that looked like men against boys. In the span of 15 minutes, the Hurricanes went from being up 2-0 to being down 4-2.
The series of events was a rapid-fire series of Bruins dominance and Hurricanes missteps. It all started when with a 2-0 lead James Reimer ventured too far out of net to try to play a puck before an onrushing Bruin who had gotten behind Haydn Fleury. When Reimer failed to win the race, the result was a costly mistake and a quick goal for the Bruins to let them back into the game at 2-1. Though the itself was different, the situation was very similar to Saturday’s game when Bruins goalie Jaroslav Halak made a gaffe to give the Hurricanes a goal to get back into the game down only 2-1. But whereas the Bruins responded by being stronger on the puck and more assertive advancing it out of danger, the Hurricanes seemed to crumble instantly under the weight of the single error. The result was dumpster fire of hockey. The Bruins collected the first six shots of the period in the 7:26 before their first goal. After the goal, the Bruins had the next 15 shot attempts and 6 shots on goal in the next 4:46 of hockey with the Canes completely under siege. The rally included two more Bruins goals, a number of Canes defensive breakdowns and Jordan Staal getting clobbered by Charlie McAvoy and heading to the locker room. Both of the Bruins last two goals came on costly errors/defensive breakdowns.
The list of Canes contributors in the mess were many:
–James Reimer opened door with the play where he came out of net and did not get the puck. Though what followed was a team-wide breakdown, he also seemed to have no answer when the Bruins started flying.
–With a 2-0 lead approaching the midway point of the third period, Haydn Fleury somehow let a Bruin behind to go in alone. He also lost a position battle at the top of the crease to the Bruins player who screened Reimer on the second goal.
–Jaccob Slavin was in the picture but behind the eventual goal scorer for both of the last two goals.
–Justin Williams had the costly turnover at the offensive blue line that led to the spring pass to send Marchand in alone for the third goal.
–And sharing blame across the entire group, no one on the Hurricanes seemed to have anything for a response or answer when the game turned.
Bigger than the details is that last point. The Hurricanes seemed to completely implode once things took a small turn for the worse which was the the complete opposite of the Bruins in a similar situation in the previous game.
Seeking positives and reasons for optimism
The first two periods
By no means were the Hurricanes dominant during the first two periods, but in some ways that was an even bigger positive. The Hurricanes were able to leverage decent, not great, play and some timely scoring to climb out to a 2-0 lead and seemingly a path to a victory. The decent version of the Hurricanes were good enough. Winning three straight against the Bruins will be incredibly tough, but as far as just winning game 5, a repeat would be a good starting point.
Elevated to a bigger role on the top line, Jordan Martinook had a huge game. He scored off the rush to put the Canes up 2-0, and he had another pretty tip that found the back of the net but was (rightfully) waved off. That is exactly the kind of spark the team needed.
Before the implosion, a number of players stood out positively. Ryan Dzingel was flying and maybe more significant spent a ton of time battling for position at the top of the crease including on Williams’goal.
Dating all the way back to the early days, the Carolina Hurricanes’ history has a legacy of converting disappointments into exhilarating pinnacles of success. For those who are disinvesting from the 2020 season after Monday’s debilitating loss, your move makes the most sense and significant odds suggest that will be the right decision. But an optimistic even if improbably outlook is that the ball is now very clearly on the tee for another tremendous Canes’ playoff triumph.
Lack of killer instinct
Though the damage was ultimately done in the third period, I keep thinking about the latter half of the second period. At the time, the Canes had the upper hand and were buzzing. Martinook’s goal flat beat Halak. That was followed by a couple other chances where Halak looked very shaky. He had one he saved but still unconfidently looked behind him. He had another shot that seemed to hit him, but I am not sure he saw/tracked it. That series was followed by not one but two odd man rushes. The Hurricanes did not put a shot on net to test Halak on either. One play saw Niederreiter try to feed Necas on the back door. If received, the play would certainly have resulted in a goal and was probably the right play by Niederreiter. But when Necas was unable to receive and finish, Halak was off the hook without making a save. On the other play, the pass did not connect, and again Halak was spared. If the Hurricanes put four or five even grade B chances on net in the latter half of the second period, I have to wonder if they do not score another goal or two and even chase Halak. How different would this series look in that scenario especially with Tuuka Rask already gone from the bubble and virtually no NHL experience (17 games) waiting behind Halak?
My most positive takeaway from a rough night was from Brind’Amour’s press conference. As I said on Twitter:
Rod Brind'Amour saying he too needs to learn and do better preparing his team says a ton about who he is as a coach and person.
If ever there was @Canes game, where he could just take a pass and chuck the players under the bus, this was it.
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) August 18, 2020
At a time when it would have been easier and justifiable to separate from the players, Rod Brind’Amour instead made a point to climb into the same boat as them.
If he can do it, I can too.
Next up is a day to process or maybe just shake off Monday’s disappointing loss. Then the series is scheduled for its second back-to-back which could be an advantage if the Hurricanes can manage to win the first one.