Though the result was the same and some of the road issues reappeared, the Canes 3-1 loss on Sunday was enough different from the game 3 loss to the Bruins to inspire hope. More on that below.
First from a half-empty perspective, the Canes did lose game 3 on the road and familiar issues reappeared.
The Canes lost the special teams battle by a goal. After actually being better at times in the past couple games without much for results, the Canes power play mostly struggled on Sunday with the worst being the most important chance with six minutes remaining and down a goal. The silver lining was the Canes first power play that saw Svechnikov miss just off the outside of the post and then also feed Nino Niederreiter in front for a grade A deflection chance. But different from the Boston struggles, the Canes gave up only three power play chances which is reasonable.
Also like the road struggles in Boston, much of it stemmed from the change in match ups. In Boston Marchand/Bergeron/Pastrnak exploded for 16 points in the first two games in Boston in the first round. On Sunday, the outburst was more controlled but still the difference. Mika Zibanejad was the best player on the ice and easily could have had four or five points. He finished with only two but also set up at least three other good scoring chances. Fellow first-liner Chris Kreider scored the other goal (not counting the empty-netter). Also like in Boston, Aho’s line which spent much of the game playing against Zibanejad was held to nothing on the score sheet.
The two deficits of being outscored on special teams and having the other team’s top scoring line outscore yours is a tough starting point to win a hockey game and again proved too much to overcome for the Canes.
But bigger picture, I thought this game was much closer to what the Canes need to win on the road in the playoffs. The Canes were more aggressive offensively, won the day at least in terms of volume of scoring chances and shots and could easily have scored another goal or two. In that regard, the Canes did at least play a game that gave them a chance to win.
Player and other notes
1) Antti Raanta
I thought both Raanta and Shesterkin had a good number of great saves but were both also a bit lucky at times. Each had a couple seeming goals somehow not find the net and also shots that nearly beat them just get a piece of something and carom harmlessly over the net. (Shesterkin’s most memorable was the shot that just barely glanced off the top of his shoulder, and Raanta’s was the shot that caught just the smallest part of the shaft of his stick.) But giving credit where it is due, both goalies played well in a 2-1 game (not counting empty-netter) that looked nothing like the low offensive event games in Raleigh.
2) Andrei Svechnikov
He continues to struggle on the score sheet which is significant, but his game on Sunday was more of a mixed bag than zero goals and zero assists would suggest. On the same shift he hit the outside of the post on a shot that had the goalie beaten and also fed Niederreiter for a grade A chance on a deflection. He also had the scoring chance off the rush where he managed to push right through the defender for a scoring chance between the circles. That last play was most encouraging as was his propensity to shoot when given the chance as demonstrated by his five shots on goal. Svechnikov has been physical in the playoffs on the forecheck and without the puck, but offensively he has far too often settled for being a perimeter player. Goals for Svechnikov will come when he starts spending more time at the top of the crease between the face-off circles. In tight-checking playoff hockey, there just are not enough scoring chances to be had from carrying the puck wide and assessing, assessing, assessing… So in that regard, there is some hope that Sunday’s game was a small step in the right direction.
3) Vincent Trocheck
He was not rewarded for it on the score sheet, but I liked Trocheck’s game. He played fast and aggressive throughout the game and as a result hit the combination of being around the puck and the net at the same time which per my comments on Svechnikov bodes well for scoring.
4) Tony DeAngelo
After a strong start to the playoffs, he has faded a bit defensively. He had a couple really tough turnovers, one of which led to the early goal against, in game 1 and has been in the middle of more than his fair share of defensive messes. With the intensity rising and the post-game shouting match after game 3, Brind’Amour and the captains hopefully play a role in keeping DeAngelo focused on the task at hand which is winning a playoff series.
5) Shots up…now pair with more crease chaos
The Hurricanes had an impressive 35 shots on net through two periods on Sunday and a decent 9 in the third period when the Rangers sat back a bit eliminating anything off the rush. Add 31 shots that were either blocked or missed the net, and the Canes chucked the puck toward the net 75 times. But there was a little bit too much of the ‘try to beat the hot goalie’ to it. If the Canes can control play, get a similar shot volume but also add more crease crashing to the mix, I think the chance is there to crack Shesterkin in game 4.
Next up is the Canes fifth try to win a playoff road game. A Canes win makes for a positive split and three chances to win the series with two being at home. A loss charts a course that looks like the Boston series with zero margin for error at home and a tight rope walk to a series victory that leverages home ice advantage to the maximum.