Our Carolina Hurricanes hockey community
On Thursday night the Carolina Hurricanes absolutely magical 2018-19 season came to an end in a 4-0 loss to the Boston Bruins.
Short of actually winning the Stanley Cup, I really do not think that the Hurricanes hockey community could have asked for more. Fans experienced every bit of exhilarating, dominating, tense and whatever else one could pack into a deep playoff run. Certainly the ending is disappointing, but that is more about having to let go of something so good than the actual series loss.
And yet again our hockey community showed that the relationship between the team and the fan base in Raleigh, North Carolina is truly something unique. You cannot tell me that a fan base in Boston or pretty much anywhere else for that matter would have cheered the team passionately in the finally minute and a half of a 4-0 loss in a series sweep.
And that is yet another instance of the Hurricanes hockey community being unique and special.
As Canes fans know too painfully, there are no guarantees that success in one season carries over to the next, but there is significant reason to believe that this is only the beginning. The team was the youngest in the 2018-19 playoffs and significantly that youth is in the core players and future leaders of this team. Though they did not get all the way there, this group now knows pretty much what it takes to win a Stanley Cup. As long as they do not trade the hard work and effort that was the foundation of the 2018-19 season success for complacency, the 2019-20 team should improve even if the team does not make any significant additions.
But more significantly than trying to chart a course or make a schedule for a next Stanley Cup Championship, the Canes hockey community including the players, team staff and the fans was rewarded and has been rejuvenated after a long and sometimes difficult drought.
Once again, it is an absolutely wonderful time to be a Carolina Hurricanes fan.
Short game recap
Credit to Boston for playing its most complete game of the series even minus captain Zdeno Chara to close out an impressive series sweep. What stood out about this game was how incredibly stingy the Bruins were defensively. Tuukka Rask really was not the story despite the fact that the game was a shutout. My count and memory had the Hurricanes with exactly zero breakaways, zero odd man rushes and only a handful of shots from between the face-off circles (most of those contested). The thing that the Bruins do better than any team is wall off half of the ice. They will give you a path down the wall and let you carry the puck to the corner and will when necessary give you the point as an outlet, but on Thursday the number of times that the Hurricanes were able to successfully move the puck from the side to the middle or other side of the rink was a handful at best. The result is virtually nothing for scoring chances that force Rask to move and track the puck, and the result is almost nothing for grade A scoring chances in front of the net.
On the Hurricanes side, the story early was Curtis McElhinney. I thought he was better than Rask in the first period by virtue of facing a more challenging set of chances. McElhinney in general played a strong game and gave his team a chance for as long as he could. Another positive was that the effort was there on the Hurricanes side. By no means was game 4 a story of the Hurricanes mailing it in or quitting early. The Hurricanes actually held their own in terms of puck possession and offensive zone time, but per my comments on the Bruins defense just were not able to convert it into much production-wise. And to no surprise, the Hurricanes all series special teams struggles reared their ugly head again. The penalty kill was disappointing because it never really adjusted. The Bruins were basically bating the Canes to get one forward deep on the forecheck and then attacking the offensive blue line 3-on-3 with speed. The result was pretty consistent easy entry and more significantly the ability to attack offensively following the rush and before the Hurricanes could get settled. The result was chances off the rush, and the ability the ability to exploit every failure to identify and close off passing lanes.
Put more simply, the Bruins were the better team and earned their right to play for the Stanley Cup.
A huge win overall in the playoffs
But in realizing that the Eastern Conference Finals did not go well, it is important to also recognize the team’s successes. The Washington Capitals series win was an impressive one over a very good hockey team. The resiliency showed to start from a 2-0 deficit, trail the entire series and then guts out a series win with a game 6 win at home and a game 7 win on the road was downright impressive for a young team. Though it lacked the same drama and suspense, the quick 4-0 win over the New York Islanders was also impressive. So in total, the Carolina Hurricanes’ success in the 2019 NHL Playoffs far outweighs the failure of this last round.