What do the Hurricanes do now?
They’ve changed goalies. They’ve brought the series back home, where they were undefeated in the playoffs. They’ve pushed the “Bunch of Jerks” narrative. They’ve targeted Torey Krug and peppered Tuukka Rask with as many as 20 shots on goal in a single period. Down, 2-1, they pulled the goalie with two minutes left in Game 3.
And still they lost. Still they are overwhelmed. Their season is on the brink. They are on the verge of getting swept by your Boston Bruins.
The Bruins beat the Canes, 2-1, Tuesday night and now stand on the threshold of a four-game sweep in the Eastern Conference finals. It feels as if the Hurricanes are powerless to stop the Boston storm. My doppler radar predicts that the Bruins are going to the Stanley Cup Final. Bring on Jumbo Joe Thornton.
The frustrated Hurricanes were 0 for 5 on the power play in Game 3.
Here’s a suggestion. Maybe the Canes should give Kevin Millar a call and bring him to PNC Arena for a pep talk before Thursday’s night’s Game 4. Millar could give ’em the old, “Don’t let us win tonight” speech that worked so well for the 2004 Boston Red Sox when they trailed the Yankees, three games to zero.
Those Sox are one of only five teams in our major sports to recover from a 3-0 deficit. Four hockey teams have done it, including the 2010 Philadelphia Flyers, who did it to the Bruins. Three other hockey teams have accomplished the feat: 1942 Maple Leafs, 1975 Islanders, and 2014 Kings. No NBA team has come back from a 3-0 deficit.
The Canes thought they could avoid this when they came home Tuesday. Carolina was 5-0 in the playoffs at home and beat the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals after trailing, 2-0, in their first-round series. After being outscored, 11-4, in two games in Boston, they figured they would get a boost from their home crowd.
Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour, a 20-year veteran on the ice but a rookie behind the bench, swapped goaltenders for Game 3. It was hardly a surprise move, but the coach kept everyone in suspense until a half-hour before game time when backup journeyman Curtis McElhinney led the Canes onto the ice instead of Petr Mrazek, who wiffed on a lot of rubber in the two games in Boston.
We were waiting for the change. The Bruins scored eight goals over three periods of Games 1 and 2, and yet Mrazek came out for the third period, down 4-0, on Sunday. Even Grady Little would have pulled him by then. When the Bruins made it 6-0 in Game 2, the online onslaught toward Brind’Amour was overwhelming. The Canes coach was a branded an idiot. Stubborn. It reminded me of the late Earl Weaver, who was once ripped by Mike Cuellar after pulling the southpaw from the Orioles rotation. When Cuellar cried that Earl hadn’t give him a chance, the manager snapped, “I gave Cuellar more chances than my first wife.’’
Brind’Amour was giving Mrazek more chances than Weaver gave his first wife.
That all changed Tuesday. With the season on the line, how could you stick with a guy with a .808 save percentage — the hockey equivalent of Jackie Bradley’s batting average?
The alternative was McElhinney — the original vagabond. Mr. “Have Mask and Paddle, Will Travel.’’ In 11 seasons, McElhinney has played in Calgary, Anaheim, Ottawa, Phoenix, Columbus, Toronto and finally, Raleigh. He was cut by the Maple Leafs last fall.
McElhinney came to the Canes in October on a waiver claim. He wound up starting 33 of Carolina’s regular-season games. He went into Game 3 with a career mark of 3-2-1 against the Bruins.
The Bruins didn’t give McElhinney much to do in the first 20 minutes. Carolina could have gone with JBJ in goal. Or LBJ. Or RKK. The puck was down the other end for almost the entire period. The only sounds you could hear were the screams of the PNC crowd, interrupted by occasional muffled “thump’’ as another shot was smothered by Rask. While McElhinney enjoyed a rocking chair first period, Rask was forced to perform a goaltending clinic. The Canes outshot the Bruins, 20-6, and were 0-4 in six minutes of power plays.
More frustration for the Storm.
The Bruins beat McElhinney twice in the second period: a table hockey score by Chris Wagner off a nice centering pass from Joakim Nordstrom, then a deke-and-shuffle, left-to-right backhand by Brad Marchand on a power play. McElhinney looked shaky on multiple occasions, rarely stopping the puck with clean control.
Carolina cut it to 2-1 when Calvin de Haan’s booming slapper slipped under Rask’s pad in with six minutes left in the second.
No goals were scored in the third. Rask, a clear Conn Smythe favorite at this hour, was great again. He had 35 saves.
And the Bruins didn’t even allow the Hurricanes, with their goaltender pulled, over the red line in the final 30 seconds.
There is nothing easy about this, but the Bruins are dominating these guys and one win away from the Cup Final.