The Carolina Hurricanes find themselves in a troubling situation, down three games to one by the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning, but the Hurricanes are no stranger to being against the wall.
Against the Washington Capitals in 2019, being down 3-2, the Canes brought the series back home and dominated the Caps, en route to a double OT game-winner by Brock McGinn in Washington. The Canes aren’t playing the Caps anymore; tonight they play a team that plays a dominant neutral-zone denial game that is really hard to beat.
The Carolina Hurricanes have, however, shown the ability to beat them. In most games, the Hurricanes have been a competing team, with most goals from Tampa either coming on the man advantage or from a mental mistake by the Canes. So, what are the keys to keeping the series alive against Tampa Bay tonight?
Stay out of the Penalty Box
This is the number one point of emphasis, without doubt, that I hope Rod Brind’amour is preaching in the locker room. The Carolina Hurricanes, personally, have been the better team at five-on-five in each game throughout the series. In Game 1, Tampa had two goals: one on the powerplay, and then one as a result of a rare mental error by Alex Nedeljkovic. Without the powerplay, the Canes take the game to OT and potentially win.
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In Game 2, this isn’t truly the case, as the Hurricanes didn’t really play all too well. When they did, they were actively getting goalied by Andrei Vasilevskiy. In Game 3, both of the Lightning goals came on the powerplay. Without the powerplays, the Hurricanes win the game, miles before OT. In Game 4, the Carolina Hurricanes took 6 penalties in a game where they had all the momentum. The Lightning capitalized on 3 of them, which ended up tying the game on the first one, got them back within one on the second, then put them ahead on the third.
Without so many senseless penalties, the Carolina Hurricanes are the better team and they play like it, too. It’s never a good idea to give a team that is actively $18 million dollars over the cap with stars like Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman more ice for them to play with. Staying away from being down a man is absolutely key for the Carolina Hurricanes to take the series to a Game 6.
Getting more from your depth guys
The Carolina Hurricanes just flat out need more from their depth guys. With guys like Warren Foegele and Vincent Trocheck being game-time decisions (even though Foegele shouldn’t go if he isn’t 100 percent, as his numbers from last game are zeroes across the board except for a penalty; same with Trocheck, too).
Players like Martin Necas, who has 0 points in this series, need to step up. Cedric Paquette, who was quoted to saying something like, “When you beat Tampa physically, you beat Tampa”, while averaging less than 2 hits a game for a noted enforcer, isn’t good. Brock Mcginn, who was electric in Round 1 against the Nashville Predators, seems to have quietened down in Round 2.
Getting more production from those guys when regulars in the top 6 and top 9 are down injured is absolutely huge in keeping this series alive. If Nino Niederreiter can suit up in Game 5 and play like he is at 100 percent, that would be a great addition back, even if Jordan Martinook is his center (which is a horrible idea, might I add).
Meanwhile, Tampa is getting great depth scoring; Tyler Johnson scored the game tying goal in Game 4 and is just constantly a menace to our whole team, whether that be hitting-wise or just on the forecheck. Anthony Cirelli scoring the game-winning goal in Game 2 being a third line center is another depth player (even though he’s a first-liner everywhere else) and Barclay Goodrow scoring the game winner in Game 1 are more examples of the insane depth scoring the Bolts are getting.
The Carolina Hurricanes need depth guys to step up. Guys like Jesper Fast, Steven Lorentz, Martin Necas and Jordan Martinook have to step up if the Canes want to make it out of Round 2, or even just force a Game 6. They can’t solely rely on the Svechnikov-Aho-Teravainen line to completely pull them around.
Now, this one isn’t going to be popular because in all honesty, both goalies for the Carolina Hurricanes have been good. Nedeljkovic had been great in limiting Tampa Bay to just two goals in both Games 1 and 2, and Petr Mrazek got us the Game 3 victory. They are also trying to outduel one of the best goalies in the NHL in Andrei Vasilevskiy. But the Canes have only gotten two true games of consistent goaltending so far, and one wasn’t even in a win.
Let’s go through game-by-game and think about the goals. In Game 1, Ned had to deal with a screen and a Lightning powerplay, not much he could’ve done with that one. Then, on the second goal, he misplaces his pad and attempts to readjust – Barclay Goodrow took advantage and it just slips under his pad.
Game 2 is the best and most consistent night of goaltending so far. The first goal from Alex Killorn was a complete screen and Ned couldn’t physically do anything about it, as he’s still looking for the puck when it goes in. The second goal by Anthony Cirelli was just a bad misplay by Brady Skjei, but for Brady’s sake, it’s hard to play a bouncing puck going backwards against a much faster skater in Cirelli. If he played for the hit he might’ve had a chance, but nothing we can do about it now.
Game 3 was the goalie switch and it worked, but to an extent. Petr Mrazek came in relief of Ned after two games, looking to switch the mojo around the team. It worked, as Petr played well and made great saves to keep the Carolina Hurricanes in the game after giving up two goals to Tampa’s powerplay. He did enough to keep the Canes in the game, even though Ned did the same thing and never got the same support.
Game 4 was probably the ugliest night of goaltending so far. I’ll excuse the 3 powerplay goals because a Tampa Bay powerplay is must watch TV. Even if they don’t score, they have 2 to 3 grade A opportunities. But the Tyler Johnson goal from outside the left circle that went high on the gloveside (with a partial tip but it was going in the same place anyway) and the goal to put Tampa up 6-4 by Kucherov was an unscreened shot from the top of the middle circle.
The Carolina Hurricanes have had great goaltending in 2 games out of 4. Against the reigning champions, $17 million dollars over the cap and with a top 3 goalie in the NHL, you can’t have average goaltending. You need to have good to great goaltending, night in and night out.
The last two things that are smaller but still important: a full, complete 60 minutes by the whole team. If you get a complete effort by all of your forwards and all your defensemen, you can and will beat this team. As well, if the Caniacs continue to make the PNC the loudest house in the NHL, giving constant vocal support for the team (and not having to give your fans artificial noise makers to have some noise), they will undoubtedly force a Game 6.