After getting the better end of the front part of a wild second period, the Hurricanes found themselves up 4-2 with less than half of the game to go. Then in a matter of minutes, the Canes seemed to implode giving up three quick goals to exit the second period down 5-4 and probably wondering how it happened.
There must be 150 angles that one could come at Saturday’s game. Below is my attempt to boil it down to the most significant things.
Failure to finish
The how’s and why’s are many, but in simplest terms the Hurricanes failed to close out a game in hand. In game 3, the Hurricanes similarly surrendered a two-goal lead very quickly, but it was mostly swept away when the Hurricanes pulled out a win in overtime. On Saturday, once the Canes started slipping they never really recovered. Up 4-2, the Canes needed to do some combination of smelling blood and just continuing to attack to minimize the need to play defense and maybe even extend the lead, and/or being sound with puck management and defensive play such that it would be really difficult for Tampa Bay to generate much offensively. Instead, the Hurricanes started by being a bit loose and lackadaisical defensively and compounded the problem by taking a couple bad penalties. The result was a couple power play goals against and another at even strength. That lapse has a very good chance to put an end to the team’s 2020-21 season.
The Hurricanes yielded a whopping three power play goals against. Disappointing is the Hurricanes inability to make adjustments. Tampa Bay’s power play is designed to very simply get the puck to Nikita Kucherov close enough to the net on the flank that the goalie has to respect the possibility he shoots with time and space. From there, he is a wizard at finding/creating passing lanes to Stamkos from his office on the other side or Point or Killorn at the front of the net or between the face-off circles. Step 1 in slowing the Lightning power play must be attacking Kucherov when he has the puck. Every half second he has the puck unpressured is another step closer to something bad happening. Meanwhile, the Hurricanes have yet to solve the Lightning alternating stacking four at the blue line or otherwise trying to keep play to one side when they are on the power play.
Blue line woes
A strength of the Hurricanes the past two years has been both the top end and the depth of the blue line. Two years ago, the Hurricanes had Calvin de Haan and Trevor van Riemsdyk pushed to the bottom pairing such that there were reinforcements when Dougie Hamilton faltered a bit. Fast forward to Saturday, and Brind’Amour was trying to make the current group work with smoke and mirrors. In trying to balance the pairings on the road, Brind’Amour separated Brett Pesce and Brady Skjei. The result was mostly two sub-par pairings. Skjei/Hakanpaa had a tough game mostly throughout, and Jake Bean also struggled. The Canes had similar problems against Nashville, especially for the games that Slavin was out of the lineup, but the difference is in the caliber of offense by the two opponents.
He had a tough game. The biggest error was the rebound he spit out right at the top of the crease for a quick goal against, but he also was beaten cleanly from a ways out by Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov. It was not so much that any particular goal was horrible as he just did not seem to have an answer for much of anything.
Per what I said on Twitter shortly after the game ended, the chances to win the series plummeted significantly with this loss, but the team will not quit on this season, and I do not think the fans should either.