Unfortunately, my game preview mostly foretold everything that could and would go wrong in Sunday’s game against the Bruins. (Indented quotes from the game preview)


1) Battle of the best

In the 2019 playoff series loss to the Bruins, the single biggest deciding factor was that the Bruins top line Marchand/Bergeron/Pastrnak were the best and most productive players on the ice both at even strength and on special teams. They outplayed the Canes top line led by Sebastian Aho, and that was enough to tilt the series in Boston’s favor. The formula reappeared in a game 3 Bruins win that saw the trio reunited after mostly being separated with Pastrnak on the second line. On Friday, the trio combined for six points and were the best on the ice again. In the two wins in Raleigh, Bergeron’s line was mostly stymied and outplayed by Staal’s line, and Aho had a big game with two goals in game 2.

After a quiet game on Friday, I will be watching to see if Aho’s line can rise up and play even or better against Bergeron and company who will mostly be matched up with them again.

Brad Marchand (2 G, 3 A), David Pastrnak (1 G, 1 A) and Patrice Bergeron (1 G, 2 A) combined for 10 scoring points, while Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov and Seth Jarvis combined for no scoring points and three minor penalties taken.

If one wanted an illustration for whichever team’s top players played better determining the outcome of a game, this would be it.


2) Special teams

The three-goal differential on special teams was the goal-scoring difference on Friday. At even strength, the Hurricanes outscored the Bruins 2-1, two power play and one shorthanded goal against pushed the Bruins to a 4-2 victory. As good as the Canes penalty kill has been this season, best and simplest is to simply stay out of the penalty box and then ideally score if given the chance on a power play. Regardless of how the score sheet stacks up penalty-wise, the Hurricanes need to right the ship on special teams and play even or better.


The Hurricanes power play continues to be out of synch to the tune of 0 for 5 on Sunday. The Canes penalty kill was not horrible but did get touched up for two goals against on nine tries with a nod to my comment “best and simplest would be to simply stay out of the penalty box and then ideally score if given the chance on a power play.” The game was largely decided in a short burst that saw the Hurricanes take four minor penalties at the end of the second period. I get the objections to the failed challenge (see below), but one cannot argue a four-minute high-sticking or the other one.


3) Seeking a hero

In the NHL playoffs, big games are often decided by a hero rising up. Most common is for that hero to be a star or team leader, but there are also cases where a role player like a Brock McGinn or Warren Foegele rise up. If forced to name a player to watch in this regard, I like the possibility of Svechnikov breaking out. He has been engaged physically but has only empty-net scoring points to his credit so far in the series. That will not cut it if the Canes hope to play deep into the playoffs. Could Sunday be a break out day for Svechnikov? Or if not, will another young gun rise to the occasion in a big game?

In the two games in Boston, the Hurricanes have been unable to find a hero to match the Bruins best. But to be fair, Brett Pesce donned a cape early with the first goal of the game and a goal-saving break up of a back door pass also in the first period. And also buried beneath the outcome was another strong game by Jordan Staal’s line. Finally, had the team not imploded late, Antti Raanta was also tracking well before it ended badly. Per #1, the Canes need more from the best versus best match up if they want to win in Boston, but if I sort through the wreckage there were a few more silver linings than I think many realize.


Player and other notes

–Jordan Staal’s line: They were involved in both Canes goals and generally had another strong game. One of the biggest causes for hope heading into game 5 is that Brind’Amour will again have last change and will no doubt use it to play Staal’s line against Bergeron’s line which was effective in games 1 and 2.

–Brett Pesce: As noted above, on a night when the blue line was too often sub-par, Pesce had a strong game.

–16-point differential: In the two games in Boston’s top line of Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak tallied a massive 16 scoring points while Aho, Svechnikov and Jarvis had none. That is really tough to overcome.

–Antti Raanta: Four goals against is not a great top line number, but I think he was much more a victim than a cause of Sunday’s loss. I do not have any reservations starting him again on Tuesday.

–The goalie interference challenge: To be completely honest, like many NHL fans I have no idea what is and is not goalie interference, so it is difficult to say for certain a goalie interference call is a bad one. The replay seems to show the Bruins player push Raanta’s pad which cases him to drift backwards into the net just as the goal is being scored. Seems like interference to me? Regardless, that was very clearly the turning point in the game. Had that goal been overruled, so is the penalty for a failed challenge. Who knows what happens from there, but very likely the Canes would have gone to the locker room with a 2-1 lead instead of tied 2-2 and staring at a daunting penalty kill with 40ish seconds of 5-on-3. None of this changes that the Canes need to play better, but this single play did significantly change the trajectory of a tied hockey game.

–Minus their two best defenders: With Hampus Lindholm still out after the Svechnikov hit and Charlie McAvoy a late scratch due to COVID, the Bruins managed Sunday’s win minus their two top defensemen. I shudder to think of a Canes lineup minus Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce.

–The playoffs are never easy: After winning two games at home to start the series, the Canes did have a chance at a much easier path to a first-round series win and needed only a single win in Boston to take that path. Obviously that did not happen, but that does not mean all is lost. The ability to dictate match ups has been a difference-maker in both halves of the series, and the Hurricanes can still win just by defending home ice twice more.


Next up is what could be a series-deciding game 5 in Raleigh on Tuesday night. If the Bruins carry momentum into game 5 and drive it to a win, a game 6 return to Boston and the match up problems there looks incredibly ominous. On the other hand, if the Hurricanes again take care of business at home, the stage is set for the Hurricanes to surprise in Boston for game 6 or, if not, just repeat the formula for game 7 back at PNC Arena.


The Canes need to play better to win the series obviously, but that is not a crazy big ask. In addition, the team has an incredibly good track record of bouncing back after poor outings. TLDR…There is still reason for optimism.


Go Canes!

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