RALEIGH — You can blame Tuukka Rask all you want. You can blame the Carolina Hurricanes’ laughably ineffective power play all you want. You can blame the ill-timed spectacle of Justin Williams coming apart at the seams all you want.
The Hurricanes are down in this series perhaps because of all of them. But they are staring at a 3-0 deficit in the Eastern Conference final for one reason: because they couldn’t hit an open net in Game 3 on Tuesday to save their lives.
It started on the game’s first shift, when Teuvo Teravainen was set up with a perfect cross-crease pass from Jaccob Slavin but sent the shot wide. It continued later, when Micheal Ferland had Rask beaten but was put off-balance by Charlie McAvoy just before Ferland could direct the puck into the net.
The open-net horror show continued. Sebastian Aho couldn’t take advantage of Rask moving across the crease and his weak shot was saved. Not even five minutes later, Andrei Svechnikov missed a tap-in on a wide open net. Then Aho, again, late in the third with a tie game sitting on his stick.
In a series where the Hurricanes are getting absolutely nothing from their power play, they desperately need to bury their chances at even strength. They didn’t, and now they’re in deep, deep trouble after a 2-1 loss in Game 3 on Tuesday.
Tuesday’s game had the feeling early that it was bound to be one of those games. You know the ones I’m talking about. The Hurricanes had 20 shots in the first period, their most in a playoff period since a game in this building against New Jersey in 2009 where they took 22. Rask was on top of his game, to be sure, but every Hurricanes fan in the over-capacity crowd at PNC Arena had seen that movie before, and when Chris Wagner made it 1-0 early in the second there was an air of knowing resignation in the building.
Did the Hurricanes hurt themselves? Obviously, yes. The first Bruins goal was a defensive breakdown in front of the net by Brett Pesce and Brock McGinn, and Williams continued to be off his rocker by taking three penalties in the first 20 minutes, an uncharacteristic out-of-body experience by a captain who knows better. The adage that a team creates its own luck comes to mind here, and the Hurricanes did little that was in their control to earn their chances.
We’ve made it this far with only a passing mention of the power play, which failed to score yet again but was at least respectable instead of the out-and-out abhorrence that was on display in Game 2. The Hurricanes were given a 4-on-3 for nearly 90 seconds, an unheard-of length of time with that much open ice, and did nothing with it. At this point, the power play is what it is, and there’s no sense beating a horse that’s dead, buried and already in history textbooks.
It’s fair to observe that the Hurricanes’ luck may have simply run out at the worst possible time. The Bruins were the beneficiaries of some questionable calls in the first two games in Boston. On Tuesday, the Hurricanes got the calls, they got the chances, and they couldn’t finish them.
If this is how it ends, which seems a fait accompli at this point although there’s still plenty to play for on Thursday, the Hurricanes can at least take solace in the fact that they got back to their game, which is what Rod Brind’Amour made very clear was job one after Sunday’s stinker. If doing that is not enough to tally a win, it doesn’t make it any easier to take, but the Hurricanes at least left little on the table.
Sometimes, it happens. They’ve gotten further than just about anyone expected. It’s disappointing, sure, but it isn’t unprecedented in hockey; far from it. The Hurricanes have one more chance to extend their season on Thursday night, and hopefully they’ll get the chances to drop then that they couldn’t in Game 3.