NHL Playoffs: Carolina Hurricanes seek turnaround as Panthers eye trip to Stanley Cup Final
Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour spent some time Tuesday shaking his head. The occasional shoulder shrug was thrown in there, too. He knows all the questions, and there are few answers.
Here’s what befuddles him right now: There isn’t much to fix regarding the way the Hurricanes are playing against the Florida Panthers. The offense is generating chances. The defense is giving up almost nothing.
And they’re down 3-0 to the Panthers in the Eastern Conference finals anyway.
The Panthers can wrap up their first trip to the Stanley Cup final in 27 years on Wednesday night when they host the Hurricanes in Game 4.
Florida goalie Sergei Bobrovsky has been almost immaculate, stopping 132 of 135 shots in the series — hence, Brind’Amour spending his days wondering what the Hurricanes have to do to get one past that guy.
“That is the toughest way to lose a game, when you come back in and it’s a play here or there that you didn’t make. That’s the whole difference in this series right now,” Brind’Amour said Tuesday. “It’s definitely frustrating. The key is, you can’t let it change your mindset. We’re not going to win four games tomorrow. We’ve got to try to win one.”
There have been 244 games this season — counting the playoffs — with teams combining to score at least nine goals. It’s not uncommon to have that many; roughly one in every 5 1/2 games this season has seen at least nine goals.
This series? Not so much. The Panthers and Hurricanes have combined in three games to score nine goals — total: Florida 6, Carolina 3. And that really should be four games, considering all the overtimes that the teams grinded through before Matthew Tkachuk gave the Panthers a middle-of-the-night game-winner in Game 1.
“We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us,” Carolina’s Jaccob Slavin said. “There’s no beating around the bush there. But we’ve got a lot of belief in our locker room, and we’ve just got to break through.”
Panthers coach Paul Maurice freely acknowledges that he’s no goaltending genius. He says hello to his goalies and that’s about it, other than trying to read some body language from time to time. But he had this highly technical assessment of Bobrovsky right now, after going 10-1 in his last 11 games. The run started with Florida rallying from down 3-1 in Round 1 against a Boston team that was coming off posting the NHL’s best regular season record ever.
“Really, really good,” Maurice said.
That about sums it up. If Bobrovsky is really, really good again, the Panthers are likely headed to the Stanley Cup final — another step in the turnaround of a franchise that has transformed itself in the last few years from perennial doormat to built-to-last contender.
The focus is on Game 4. But the Panthers might be as little as 60 minutes away from a celebration.
“It’s only natural, right?” Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad said when asked how the team will keep itself from looking ahead. “Obviously, thoughts cross your mind all the time but at the end of the day you come in and you just play the game … play the game, play your hardest, focus on the little details and it all takes care of itself.”
Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov left Game 3 with a lower body injury, and the team thinks there’s a chance he could play Game 4. Maurice said Barkov not returning to Game 3 after a first-period hit was largely precautionary; a decision will be made Wednesday about his availability for the first potential clincher.
Florida has never clinched a series at FLA Live Arena in Sunrise. The last time the Panthers won a series on home ice was 1996, when they played in Miami — 16 coaching changes ago. They had a chance to clinch Round 2 against Toronto in a Game 4 at home, but lost and had to finish off that series in in Toronto in Game 5.
NOTHING TO LOSE
Hurricanes forward Seth Jarvis knows the odds are long with Carolina down 3-0 in the series.
“We have nothing to lose,” Jarvis said, repeating the familiar refrain of teams in this spot with the odds overwhelmingly suggesting that they’re going to lose the series at some point in the next four games.
Teams are 4-200 all-time in NHL playoff series history when dropping the first three games.
“Close isn’t good enough,” Jarvis said. “We need wins.”