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Systems Analyst: Pucks In Deep

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It’s a cliche for a reason.

Boston Bruins v Carolina Hurricanes - Game Three Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

It’s not a secret that hockey players often use tired cliches when speaking to the media. The one that is perhaps most often parodied is when skaters discuss getting “pucks in deep.”

But there is a reason “pucks in deep” is so commonly repeated; it’s important. In Game 3 the Hurricanes had opportunities to send pucks behind the Boston defense, but failed to do so and the pucks soon ended up in the back of Carolina’s net.

Twenty seconds prior to Boston’s first goal, Brett Pesce pushes the puck forward to Brock McGinn who flings it cross ice.

Pesce had started the period for the Hurricanes and a minute into his shift was looking for a chance to change. In the second period, however, defensemen usually need the puck to get deep into the opponent’s zone in order to change without risk.

Nino Niederreiter has a chance to send the puck deep if he can win a 50/50 race with Torey Krug to a loose puck. Each player lunges at the puck with one hand on their stick and Krug wins the battle keeping the puck in center ice, and preventing Pesce from getting a change.

Pesce’s fatigue is visible as the Bruins re-enter the zone. The Canes have a chance to clear once McGinn wins an initial puck battle with the eventual goal scorer, Chris Wagner. But, McGinn flips the puck off of Sean Kuraly who makes a nifty pass to Joakim Nordstrom. The former Hurricane then sets up Wagner for the game’s first goal.

Once the puck is turned over, both Aho and McGinn begin to chase out to pressure. Once Kuraly feeds Nordstrom, McGinn realizes his mistake and attempts to circle back on Nordstrom but it’s too late as the Swede already has a clean lane towards the net. Pesce attempts to close and take away Nordstrom’s passing lane, but now nearly 1:30 into his shift, the best he can do is drop to a knee to take away space. With Faulk late to rotate down on Wagner, Nordstrom’s ability to find a lane through Pesce is all that is needed to give Boston a lead.

The Bruins’ second strike came on a power play, but again the Hurricanes had a chance to send the puck deep, this time in the form of Sebastian Aho.

As the puck rings along the boards, Aho collects it and rather than immediately sending it the length of the ice on his backhand, attempts a move to his forehand on Patrice Bergeron. The Selke winner’s quick stick disrupts Aho and the wins a battle on the puck just inside the Boston blue line.

Again in the second period, Calvin de Haan and Justin Faulk could use a change, both having come on the ice with around 1:15 left on the Boston power play. Once Bergeron chips the puck out, Jake DeBrusk corrals it and quickly feeds Charlie McAvoy to start the Bruins’ attack.

Hard net drives from both DeBrusk and McAvoy drive the Carolina defensemen deep and Aho is late coming back after turning the puck over. Both result in Brad Marchand having tons of time and space to make a move into the slot.

DeBrusk’s net drive force Curtis McElhinney deep into his net and Marchand’s backhander deflects off of de Haan’s hand and through McElhinney.

In the postseason the margin for error continually gets smaller. Were the mistakes or inability to get the pucks deep egregious? No. And perhaps in the regular season they aren’t even worth discussing. But in the playoffs, especially against a team as talented as Boston, little mistakes can be the difference in winning and losing hockey games. And now little mistakes have the Hurricanes down 3-0.