The Carolina Hurricanes finally got to the game they wanted to play in game three of their Eastern Conference Finals series against the Boston Bruins, but it wasn’t enough to solve a red-hot goalie. With Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask stopping 35 of 36 shots he faced, Carolina lost 2-1 at PNC Arena Tuesday for its first home defeat of the playoffs, falling into a 3-0 deficit in the series in the process.
After getting thoroughly outplayed in game two of the series, the Canes came with exactly the effort they wanted against the Bruins, but couldn’t find the back of the net aside from a second-period slapshot from defenseman Calvin de Haan. Rask turned away quality chance after quality chance, which, combined with a few near misses from the Hurricanes, dropped the team to the brink of elimination.
“We said before the game that we wanted to at least show everybody what we were about, because we hadn’t done that for two games really,” said Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour. “I think you can feel about the fact that we at least gave them a game. To me, we hadn’t given them a game yet. It was pretty easy, I think, for them. So at least we battled hard. Obviously we came out exactly how we wanted to and it didn’t work out. But I’m proud of the way we played that game.”
After the Canes dropped both games in Boston, Brind’Amour opted to go with a change in net, switching from Petr Mrazek to Curtis McElhinney. While McElhinney did not get the result he wanted, he put in a strong performance, stopping 29 of 31 Bruins shots despite not getting a chance to settle in early with the Hurricanes tilting the ice in the opening frame.
“I thought we came out as a team and we were rolling,” McElhinney said. “We were playing great, had some good looks and we just weren’t able to find the back of the net. So it’s tough to kind of sit there and watch all the action at the other end but I got into it a little bit in the second.”
The Canes came out flying and nearly jumped in front right off the bat, but forward Teuvo Teravainen missed a wide-open net in the game’s first minute. Later, on an early power play, Rask came up with a series of point-blank stops on Carolina forwards Micheal Ferland, Justin Williams and Nino Niederreiter off the rebound of a point shot to keep it scoreless.
After forward Sebastian Aho took a stick up high during a four-on-four sequence, the Canes got a lengthy four-on-three power play, followed by about 45 seconds of five-on-three, but could not convert. The power play finished the game 0 for 5 and the Canes have scored just five times on 50 attempts in these playoffs.
“We had our chances,” said defenseman Dougie Hamilton. “The power play wasn’t good enough. It hasn’t been good enough for awhile and we know they have a good power play. They keep beating us on the special teams battle.”
Despite the Canes outshooting Boston 20-6 in the opening frame and pumping out quality chance after quality chance, Carolina could not solve Rask, and headed to the intermission scoreless.
“You need to get something out of that period, obviously,” Brind’Amour said. “I think not getting anything is a little bit demoralizing. They felt fine, obviously the game kind of flipped in the second. But you’ve got to come away with something with all that we had going on in the first.”
The Bruins jumped out to a 1-0 lead 1:21 into the second period; after a defensive-zone turnover by Canes forward Brock McGinn, former Hurricanes forward Joakim Nordstrom fed a cross-crease pass to forward Chris Wagner, who made no mistake on the tap-in.
About five minutes later, Boston took a 2-0 lead as forward Brad Marchand found the back of the net on a backhander from the slot that deflected past McElhinney on a Bruins power play.
“We had a good first, we just weren’t able to carry that over in the second,” said defenseman Justin Faulk. “I think they did the same thing to us there in the second period, kind of flipped it around, evened it up and obviously they took the lead with the goals. But we just had to find a way to keep that pressure going. We didn’t have it there in the second, they got two and we weren’t able to bounce back.”
Carolina finally found the back of the net with 6:12 left in the middle frame, as de Haan stepped up to the right circle and unleashed a slapshot that squeezed through Rask’s pads to make it 2-1 with his first career playoff goal.
“We gave ourselves a chance tonight,” de Haan said. “But at the end of the day we didn’t score enough goals. It’s as simple as that, and it’s frustrating but we have some faith in this group in this locker room as well and I think we’ll go one shift, one game as a time here and see how it goes.”
Boston appeared to take a 3-1 lead less than five minutes into the third on a power-play goal by defenseman Torey Krug, but it was ruled forward Jake DeBrusk interfered with McElhinney. Boston challenged the call on the ice, but it was upheld.
The Canes continued to push for the equalizer, and Brind’Amour pulled McElhinney for an extra skater with 2:02 left, but could not solve Rask and fell into the 3-0 hole.
The Hurricanes will try to start climbing the mountain Thursday with game four at PNC Arena, knowing they need to follow the time-honored cliche of one game at a time.
“We’re not going to beat them four times the next time,” Brind’Amour said. “We’ve got to try to win that one period and see what happens. It’s tough right now. And I told the guys, this sucks. There’s no way around it; I’m not going to sugarcoat it. We got kicked in you know where and it’s going to hurt for a while. But then we come tomorrow, we’ll pick the pieces up, give our best effort and see what happens.”