The 2019 playoffs have been a streaky affair for the Carolina Hurricanes. Six straight wins saw the Canes first eliminate the Washington Capitals, then the New York Islanders. Now, after three straight losses to open the Eastern Conference Finals, the Hurricanes find themselves at the brink of elimination. Only another streak - a four game winning streak - will extend their season and propel them into the Stanley Cup Finals.
To the extent that past performance matters in these situations, the Canes are 7-1 in their last eight playoff games when facing elimination - including 2-0 this season. Justin Williams was also part of the L.A. Kings team which rallied from a 3-0 series deficit to beat the San Jose Sharks in 2014, and the Bruins themselves were on the opposite side of that history in 2010 when they were stunned by the Flyers after being up 3-0.
But before the Canes can win four, they need to win one. To do that, they will need to be better in the situations that have thus far been the difference in the series.
After an entire season where the Canes’ power play was never one of the league’s best, it’s not all that surprising to see it go through a rough patch. However, the penalty kill is another matter entirely. The PK is 7/12 through three games in the ECF. The Canes have given up at least one PP goal every game going back to Game 1 against the Islanders. To get back into the series, the PK will need to be what it can be when at its best - aggressive in their own zone and a threat to create shorthanded chances off of turnovers.
Along with needing to solve the riddle of a PK which has lost its way, the Canes also need to address the other glaring weakness - scoring. The Canes have been held to under 3 goals in 5 of their last 7 games. Missed empty nets and the lack of effective screens are symptoms of a team not clicking on all cylinders. The Canes need to dig deep, get pucks and bodies in front of - and into - the net in order to continue their season.
One question mark in the lineup will be Jordan Martinook. Saku Maenalanen will step in if Martinook can’t go. After a solid performance in Game 3, expect Curtis McElhinney to once again anchor the Canes in net.
Below is the Canes’ projected lineup:
Andrei Svechnikov - Jordan Staal - Teuvo Teravainen
Nino Niederreiter - Sebastian Aho - Justin Williams
Warren Foegele - Greg McKegg - Brock McGinn
Jordan Martinook - Lucas Wallmark - Micheal Ferland
Jaccob Slavin - Dougie Hamilton
Brett Pesce - Justin Faulk
Haydn Fleury - Calvin de Haan
Injuries and Scratches: Saku Maenalanen (healthy), Trevor van Riemsdyk (shoulder surgery), Jake Bean (healthy)
The Bruins will not be likely to change much of anything given how the series is going. Tuukka Rask is building a decent resume for the Conn Smythe Trophy with a playoff GAA of 1.96 and a save percentage of 93.9.
In addition to the fantastic goaltending from Rask, Boston’s bottom six forwards have been outstanding. Marcus Johansson and Charlie Coyle - both trade deadline acquisitions - lead the series with four points each. The Johansson - Coyle - Heinen line is a combined plus 13. Keeping the third and fourth lines of Boston quiet, or at least matching their output, will be important for the Canes.
The Bruins will be forced into making one change to those bottom groupings. Chris Wagner was injured blocking a shot on Tuesday and has returned to Boston for evaluation. The previously-injured Noel Acciari will take his spot on the fourth line.
Here’s how Boston will line up tonight:
Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak
Jake DeBrusk – David Krejci – David Backes
Marcus Johansson – Charlie Coyle – Danton Heinen
Joakim Nordstrom – Sean Kuraly – Noel Acciari
Zdeno Chara – Charlie McAvoy
Torey Krug – Brandon Carlo
Matt Grzelcyk – Connor Clifton
Injuries and Scratches: John Moore (upper body), Chris Wagner (upper body), Karson Kuhlman (healthy), Kevan Miller (lower body), Steven Kampfer (healthy)