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About Last Night: The (Nearly) Final Dagger

Any real hope of the playoffs for the Hurricanes was essentially buried last night.

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past few weeks the Carolina Hurricanes have pulled off some magical victories and played fantastic hockey. But over a 48 hour period, it’s been washed all away. While the Canes looked better last night against the reigning Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins than they did against the Dallas Stars on Saturday, they still could not find a way to win - and during a stretch where the Bruins and Lightning have kept winning, the Canes’ tragic number has suddenly become minuscule in painfully short order.

The past two games have felt like watching a team trying to be too fancy and too nervous to come out on top, an unusual twist to the character of a team we had come to expect a little more from over the past three weeks. With WrestleMania going on yesterday as well, it appears the Penguins decided to chime in and play the role of the Undertaker by effectively burying the Canes’ hopes of the playoffs. So let’s decipher what led to the latest blow of the season for the Canes.

Talking Points

Effort & Desire

Saturday night against Dallas one could argue the Hurricanes lacked a second gear of desire and effort needed to win in a must-win scenario. It is hard to question the effort put forth by the Canes last night as they fought to the final second.

In order to beat a far more talented team who will likely contend for the Cup again, the Hurricanes knew they would need to come out firing. There were plenty of examples of how the team looked sleepy and unaware of their dire situation regarding the standings. That being said, the Canes fought for rebounds and created chances needed — just not enough.

For example, the defense got slack and let two very easy goals get past Eddie Lack as you see below.

Notice how Derek Ryan completely lost his man there and Brett Pesce did him no help by using the ‘we’ll let him get the pass across and expect the goalie to make a miraculous save’ technique.

Both goals feature a defensive breakdown and mental lapse that was not happening during the point streak. Pesce played both of them badly and there was nothing Lack could do. Maybe they were nervous or maybe they are finally exhausted after such a long good run. Whatever the case, the Canes had the effort, but not the execution needed to win last night. The Penguins have had the Hurricanes’ number all season and last night they completed the sweep. The division lineups aren’t changing next season, so the Canes have to figure out a way to solve the Pens next year.

Powering past the opponent

The power play can be defined as the real difference maker in the game last night. While the Hurricanes scored one goal on the PP, it was off of an extremely lucky bounce. Justin Faulk blasted a puck far above the goal and it deflected off the glass, off Matt Murray, and in the net. Hardly your traditional power play goal as you can see:

On the other hand, Pittsburgh scored two well executed power play goals off great entries in to the offensive zone. Due to the great entrances, the Hurricanes got lost on defense and gave up two back-breaking goals.

The elite teams of the league such as the Penguins, Capitals, and Blackhawks, have some of the best power plays. The Hurricanes power plays always seemed unorganized and you get a feel that they try to be too perfect, especially when the team is down. Going in to next season, the power play units need to be addressed and maybe by someone other than Rod Brind’Amour as it is clear he has had no answer for a weak special teams unit that has plagued the Canes for years.

The Positives

Not all was bad from last night even though it seems that way. Justin Faulk scored his 17th goal on the season, which is a new franchise record for goals scored by a defenseman. The goal, which was admittedly a very lucky one, also set a new career high in goals scored for Faulk. The Hurricanes’ number one defenseman continues to help lead the team on offense and man the point on the power play. If only the team had more players like him, maybe the power play would be better?

Speaking of career high goal totals, Jeff Skinner tied his with his 33rd of the season last night. He stole a goal from Elias Lindholm after a shot by Lindholm was clearly going in and barely tipped off of Skinner’s stick before crossing the line. Lindholm seemed to give him a little mouth (jokingly) about it:

While Skinner has a very good chance to break his goal record and Faulk can easily add to his, it’s becoming more and more apparent that those two guys are the faces of the franchise and are leading the team on the ice. Skinner has scored 10 goals in 10 games and Faulk has been a major part of shutting down the opposing teams top lines. Unfortunately they couldn’t do it all by themselves last night.

Moral of the Story

An emotionally gassing night saw the Hurricanes enter one of the most hostile arenas in the league in a game they had to have in order to hang on to a grasp of playoff air. With Eddie Lack returning to action for the first time since being stretchered off the ice last Monday, you know the guys wanted to win for him just as much as they did for the playoffs. They failed to get the job done and were outplayed by a superior team.

As fun as the past three weeks have been, the reality is the Hurricanes stood a very hard task of making the playoffs. Many lessons should have been learned during this stretch, and while they were not on display in either of the past two match-ups, they should be present come October. Although not mathematically eliminated yet, the Canes tragic number is down to 1. With four games left, it means last night was truly the final dagger in the desperate heart of the Hurricanes’ season.