Like everyone else, I am spent after a disappointing ending to the 2021-22 Carolina Hurricanes hockey series. And writing a ‘blah’ game recap seems poorly-timed right now in addition to being no fun. Within the next few days, I will write up some more detailed thoughts on the season, but right now is just a few random thoughts…
First, I think that losing in the second round rates ‘disappointing’ at best. That in itself says a lot about how far the Canes have come in four years since the ownership change and Rod Brind’Amour assuming head coaching duties. With four consecutive playoff appearances, the players and fans obviously wanted more. But those with a bit longer memory know that entering the season with the expectation that the team will enter the playoffs and achieving that four years in a row is a massive step up from the decade of struggles. tldr…This team is in a much better place than it was only a few years ago.
Though a key reason for the Canes struggles in both playoff series was the sub-par performance part-time (mostly on the road) or even full-time for a few of the key players offensively, I still like the young core of the team. The talent and skill is there and the players like Aho, Svechnikov, Jarvis and Teravainen at forward play the game the right way, work hard and are coachable. Getting stuck at about this point before eventually pushing over the hump is not uncommon. Some forget that the Lightning were swept in the first round after winning the President’s Trophy by a wide margin the year before winning consecutive Stanley Cups. The Penguins had a couple misses before Crosby and company broke through. The Capitals had a team capable of winning it all for nearly decade before breaking through. And the Avalanche are probably the team longest stuck at the hump seemingly destined to win a Cup. So while the play of the Canes top forwards was disappointing in the 2022 NHL Playoffs, I would be much more inclined to double down on the core and try to make improvements in the middle of the lineup.
The way the game played out with Shesterkin having a lot of answers and the Rangers being opportunistic even if not dominant offensively, I feel like the game was destined to be a Canes loss one way or another. That said, the sequence around the Jacob Trouba hit on Seth Jarvis was a huge turning point. Already down a goal, the referee right in front of the play either missed or let go a hit that was very clearly high – shoulder to head. Then the Canes picked up a too many men penalty because a seemingly concussed Jarvis basically crawled to the bench. Then the Rangers score a second power play goal to go up 2-0. I have zero reason to think that the Canes would have scored on the power play, but playing up a man would likely have pushed the game two minutes deeper with the Canes down only a goal. And for those with a good memory, how eerily reminiscent was that of Scott Stevens’ hit on Ron Francis in 2001? If my memory is correct, it was roughly in that same part of the ice that Francis similarly tried to crawl to the bench.
Sticking to positives and saving negatives for another day, Seth Jarvis really impressed me in the playoffs. As a young, smaller, skill player, he could figure to be a player to disappear in the playoffs. Instead, he fared very well in playoff hockey spending time in the dirty areas in front of the net and being willing to take hits to make plays and battle on the boards. Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce also had strong playoff series. Though game 6 in New York was a stinker, Antti Raanta played a critical role in winning the first round series and also helping the Canes win at home (until the end) against the Rangers. Jordan Staal’s line wins the most valuable line for the win over Boston and was also integral to getting the Canes deep into the Rangers series with a chance despite the special teams issues and not getting enough from some of the other forwards. I also thought Vincent Trocheck was arguably the Canes most consistent forward. Finally, though game 6 was a stinker for Antti Raanta, the team would not have won the first round series without him, and he really did not have a bad game until that game 6 loss in New York.
Keep the faith Caniacs! Though it does not feel like after a disappointing season-ending home loss, this team is in the group of teams that have a chance to win a Stanley Cup. Though that comes with exactly no guarantees that it will ever come to be, it is still a good starting point for building a team for the 2022-23 season.