For anyone who had plans for Mother’s Day or otherwise and missed the Hurricanes game on Sunday, the game was as bad as the score would indicate. The Hurricanes two goals were long after the game was decided and there were no empty-netters or piling on. So the game really was a brutal four-goal loss that arguably was really a five-goal loss before the Bruins let up a bit.
This recap will go in a slightly different direction than normal not doing a chronological recap in much detail but instead focusing on what comes out of this game.
1) Hurricanes inability to punch back
One thing that is striking through two games in this series is the Bruins ability to find opportunities to figuratively punch the Hurricanes in the mouth, and the Hurricanes inability to respond. In the game 1 loss, the Hurricanes actually seemed to have the game in hand exiting the first period. Then the Bruins received a couple power play opportunities and struck quickly to go from a 2-1 deficit to a 3-2 lead. At that point the Hurricanes were still in the game but really were not able to muster much of a response.
Sunday’s game was a bit similar. The Hurricanes were fine out of the gate and arguably even had the upper hand physically. But then the Bruins scored on a bad goal allowed by Petr Mrazek and followed it up with a quick power play strike. The Hurricanes never regained their feet. Like an MMA fighter taken down, the Hurricanes were not ever able to get regain their feet and punch back. Instead, the Bruins smelled blood and killed the Hurricanes from that point forward. The game very much reminded me of game 5 against the Capitals. In that game, the Capitals pounced early, smelled blood and demonstrated a killer instinct in winning 6-0. Worth noting is that the Hurricanes rebounded to win game 6 at home and then win game 7 in Washington importantly after twice overcoming deficits.
2) Petr Mrazek
He has yet to refind his game. The first goal was a bad one that leaked through him from an angle where the shooter had nothing to shoot out. Past the one ‘oops’, Mrazek just has not been sharp since returning from a long injury layoff. Since the start of the third period of game 1, Mrazek has allowed three goals where he left a rebound laying within a step of the crease.
In addition, the Bruins are clearly exploiting Mrazek’s style which includes attacking the puck aggressively. When the opportunity is there, the Bruins are making a concerted effort to pause at a point where a shot logically follows and then making a different play to change the shot timing or angle. The result has on multiple occasions Mrazek moving aggressively to challenge a first shot that never occurred only to be out of position for whatever followed. The Clifton goal featured Mrazek bumbling toward the puck only to leave a gaping hole behind him when the puck moved. In addition, both the Grzelcyk and Heinen goals saw each pause and hold for an extended period of time allowing Mrazek time to attack the puck. Then they shifted the puck and beat Mrazek.
It will be interesting to see who starts in net on Tuesday. I am in the camp that would have liked to see McElhinney in the third to get a read on his sharpness before making a goalie decision for Tuesday.
3) Ineffectiveness of the Hurricanes forecheck
With all of the issues that the Hurricanes have through two games, I think the most significant could be the Hurricanes inability to generate offense with their forecheck. The Hurricanes top players offensively have contributed but have yet to really click in the playoffs. Instead, the catalyst for the Hurricanes offense when the team is at its best has been the forecheck. When the forecheck is humming, the Hurricanes play very little defense because the opponent gets hemmed in their own end. And the Canes tend to generate enough scoring chances via some combination of just sheer volume of offensive zone possession time and opportunistic transition chances.
On the one hand, the Hurricanes forecheck has been better at home partly from Brind’Amour being able to target weak defensemen and pairs and possibly partly from the boost of the home crowd. But through two games, two things jump out about the Bruins ability to neutralize the forecheck. First, the Bruins defensemen have been reasonably effective finding time and space to advance the puck. More significantly though, I think the difference could be the heady play of the Bruins forwards in supporting the defense. Bergeron, Krejci and other Bruins forwards have been very good at being available for short passes and making longer passing lanes that give the defensemen options when under pressure. The big negative with this interpretation of the Hurricanes forecheck ineffectiveness is that it is more of a tactical thing and not likely something that Brind’Amour will be able to rectify with the ability to dictate match ups.
4) Special teams
This one is beating a dead horse at this point, but special teams are a huge difference-maker so far in this series. After scoring on their first power play opportunity in game 1, the Hurricanes are 0 for 6. Meanwhile, the Bruins are thriving at 4 out of 7 for the series. The Hurricanes must either improve in this regard or somehow manage to stay out of the penalty box if they are to win the series.
1) Home ice advantage
The Hurricanes are a perfect 5-on in five home games during the 2019 NHL Playoffs. There is absolutely no reason to believe that this team will not respond on home ice. Whether the Hurricanes can come back for another series win is yet to be determined, but this team will push back over the next two games in Raleigh.
2) Proven potential is there
The Hurricanes were able to get the forecheck going and play dominant hockey for about 15 minutes in Thursday’s loss. So while there are issues with the volume of quality ice time that the Hurricanes have mustered through two games, the Hurricanes do have evidence that the potential is there.
3) Success in similar situations
This series now sets up like the Capitals series for the Hurricanes. In that series, the Hurricanes lost two road games to start the series and immediately rebounded with a win. The Hurricanes also lost 5-0 in game 5 and seemed to be on their way out of the series. But again, the team responded with a strong effort and a win in game 6. Finally, the Hurricanes have already won a game 7 on the road, so the team should feel comfortable and confident taking the long path.
The Hurricanes do have pressure on them to win game 3, but given the team’s home record it is definitely possible.