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The Carolina Hurricanes Need More than X’s and O’s to Turn the Series Around

Hurricanes playoff series

The Carolina Hurricanes find themselves with a sizeable mountain ahead in the second-round playoff series of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They are down 2-0 to the New York Rangers following a gut-wrenching double overtime loss in New York Tuesday night. Carolina has actually played quite solid this series, losing both games 4-3. Well, solid at 5v5. Special teams is a different story. But while many theorize why the NHL’s top penalty kill and second-best power play in the regular season took a nose dive in the playoffs, there seems to be an intangible that the team is missing.

The Carolina Hurricanes Lacking Element

To start off, give credit where credit is due. Igor Shesterkin is playing at an unreal level right now. A winner of six straight playoff games with a .929 SV% and 2.01 GAA. Even more notable is his goals saved above expected of 7.2. But with that said, Carolina managed to get three past him in both games. Not lighting him up by any means but still enough that shows they can score on him.

However, after dominating most of the 5v5 play, it is the special teams that are killing the Hurricanes. Their power play in this series is 0-10. They had two power play chances in overtime on Tuesday and failed to get anything going. Meanwhile, the Rangers got one power play and that was the game. On the kill, Carolina has gone 5 of 9. But instead of looking at the x’s and o’s of the power play and penalty kill, the Hurricanes seem to be missing a killer instinct and stronger determination in 50/50 battles, especially on special teams. And I’d argue this is the difference.

Cashing Cheques and Closing the Bank

The playoffs are all about opportunities. Those you create, those you cash in on, and those you deny. A bounce here, a tough call there, an unmarked forward back door are all examples of one moment that can change a game. As weird as it is to say, a Rod Brind’Amour-coached team shouldn’t be struggling in the 50/50 battle and cleaning up the trash departments but they are. Specifically at key times. It’s not across the board, but it’s enough that it is preventing them from winning by even the smallest margin.

Let’s take a look at what I mean. In the clip below showing Chris Kreider‘s game-tying power play goal in game two, he cleans up a rebound in the back of the net. It’s not a highlight-reel goal, but it counts all the same.

Jaccob Slavin‘s stick was on Kreider’s but it was Kreider who won the 50/50 battle to knock the puck in. I know the game is fast and it’s easier said than done when looking back on it. But had Slavin outmuscled Kreider or successfully tied up his stick, Carolina might have won.  It’s one of those moments that Brind’Amour talks about as “taking a breath.” If the other team is able to take advantage of those moments more than you, they will win.

In addition to this, the Hurricanes seem to have trouble in this playoff series getting the puck out of their zone on the penalty kill. Some of that is the Ranger’s effective power play but a lot again is not bearing down to make the hard but simple plays to get the puck out. That was the case right before Kreider’s goal as well. It’s easy to sit here and write how that needs to change. But it’s the reality of this situation and the team likely knows it. How does that change? It’s looking forward to leave nothing on the table and not looking back.

What’s Not Working

And then the dreadful power play. The Hurricanes power play has pretty much looked like a driving range for perimeter shots in this series. Sling the puck around the top of the umbrella until someone can take a shot from the point or top of the circles. That might be ok if they were getting shooting lanes AND a strong net-front presence. But that has been lacking. Yeah, the coaches could design a different power play scheme. But at this point, I’d argue the players are the ones to change it. And again, it comes from the heart. Driving the net, getting inside even if it means taking a hit and getting traffic in front of the net are the only ways you can beat a goalie like this. And just like defending the “garbage around the net”, Carolina has to win the 50/50 pucks around the net to put home the rebounds.

But there’s another aspect of a power play that the teams should embrace. You have an extra man on the ice. Your “skilled” plays aren’t working great. What that means is you get your feet moving and you actually outwork the penalty kill. Every loose puck has two guys on it and they crash the net. I’m not saying forget making smart plays. But sometimes you have to create your own luck. And the power play needs some.

What is Working

Game two was a perfect picture for what was working and what was not working for the Hurricanes in this playoff series. The overly simple answer for what was working: traffic in front of the net. Jake Guentzel‘s first goal and Dmitry Orlov‘s goal were both results of tips in front of Shesterkin. This HAS to be Carolina’s goal in this series. Too many times there is no net front presence. This means the goalie sees the shot and even if he saves it, there usually isn’t anyone there for the rebound. This isn’t a different scheme or game plan. This comes from determination, awareness and heart.

This isn’t to say the Hurricanes aren’t showing heart in this playoff series. They are, a lot actually. But the margin for error in the playoffs is razor thin and they have just enough moments of lapse that it’s making a difference. Being down 2-0 isn’t the end of the world as they have shown themselves historically they can come back. The Washington Capitals matchup in 2019 and the Montreal Canadiens matchup in 2006 are two that come to mind. Returning home might give them a boost. The Hurricanes last game was maybe their closest to a complete game all playoffs minus the abysmal playoffs. But back at home, they need a full 60-minute game with some grit, heart and determination to turn the series around. History shows it’s possible, but it’s up to the team as to which narrative they want to write going forward.

Main Photo Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports


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