After consecutive home playoff wins against the Boston Bruins, a familiar losing formula reemerged in game 3 in Boston. The Bruins top players both at even strength and on special teams were the best players on the ice and the deciding factor in the outcome. After a 1-1 first period, Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak factored in each of the next three goals scoring two and collecting four assists as the Bruins ran out to a 4-1 lead. The Hurricanes pushed late and pulled back to 4-2 but ultimately fell short.
The biggest story line was special teams. After their best start of the series and a 1-0 lead, the Hurricanes let the Bruins and the home crowd quickly back into the game by giving up a shorthanded goal. Two power plays goals pushed the Bruins’ special teams advantage to 3-0 which not surprisingly proved to be an insurmountable deficit.
Player and other notes
1) Special teams
As noted above, special teams was the biggest difference. The Canes power play which had struggled down the stretch just is not crisp enough right now. The result against a fast and aggressive Bruins’ penalty was that the Canes could rarely make enough time and space to do anything more than move the puck to the next player who was similarly pressured without much time to do anything.
The shorthanded goal is what gave the Bruins hope. Had the Canes scored the second goal of that game, would they have been on the easy path against a deflated Bruins team? We will never know.
A few small but costly errors also factored in significantly. Tony DeAngelo, despite committing to it, failed to take away the pass on the shorthanded 2-on-1 which led to a back door tap in. If he takes away the pass and forces the first player to shoot, Kochetkov has a decent chance to make a save from that angle. After coming out of the penalty box, Ian Cole completely misread the situation that had him joining as a forward. Cole trying to fill a defenseman slot (first where Slavin was and then duplicating Pesce down low) is what made the wide open passing lane across the top to sharp shooter Pastrnak who did not miss from pretty close range. The second Bruins’ power play goal also saw the Canes leave a passing lane across the top of the crease and have it exploited when they seemed to quit on the play a bit early assuming a probable shot from Pastrnak who instead made a pretty pass for a tap in goal. The Marchand goal (at even strength) saw Skjei fish for the puck instead of putting a shoulder into Marchand and tying up his stick. When he did not find the puck, it led immediately to a point blank chance and goal against.
Both on special teams and with small but important defensive details, the Hurricanes need to be better.
2) Top players decide the outcome more often than not
Per my game preview, in Raleigh with the last change, Bergeron’s line saw a constant helping of Jordan Staal’s line. Bergeron did score twice (once on the power play), but Staal’s line generally held the Bruins’ best in check and also scored two even strength goals themselves.
But in Boston with Cassidy having more control over match ups with the last change, Cassidy went top-heavy and reunited his top line of Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak. (Pastrnak played on the second line most of the first two games in Raleigh.) He was also able to match them quite a bit against Aho’s line. And suddenly the series brought back eerie and familiar memories from the two prior playoff series losses to the Bruins. The Bruins top line bested the Canes top line, and the rest of the Bruins lineup was good enough to hold their own making the Bergeron line advantage the difference in the game.
With Swayman stepping into the series for the first time and rookie Kochetkov continuing in net for the Canes, I noted goaltending as a possible wild card in my game preview. But goaltending did not decide the game. Kochetkov had little chance on three of the four goals that were cross ice passes and mostly back door tap ins. Swayman did get beat from well out on a shot that I think surprised him but the Canes quality chances were limited after that. If he is available, I would expect the Canes to go back to veteran Antti Raanta on Sunday, but by no means will that change be because Kochetkov was the problem in game 3.
4) The easier path is still available
Inevitably, a deep run in the playoffs will have some ups and some downs. I said in my preview that I would be surprised to see the Hurricanes win twice in Boston and sweep. But with two wins at home to start the series, the Hurricanes went to Boston really just wanting to win one of two to come home with a commanding 3-1 series lead and three chances to close out a series win. Sunday represents a chance to stay on the easier path to a series victory.
Puck drops at 12:30pm on Sunday. Hopefully your mom is a Canes fan. 🙂