The Carolina Hurricanes and Philadelphia Flyers split games on both clubs’ home ice through game four, setting the table for a dramatic finish to the series.
To this point, NHL 20 has been kind to the Hurricanes, who have been able to come through in clutch time more often than not. With an opportunity to close out the series (or have the series get closed out on them), the Canes need more of that sweet, sweet, EA Sports love.
For more information about how this series works, please refer to part one.
Here’s how games five and six went down, according to the NHL 20 simulation engine.
The Hurricanes pieced together a dominant 60-minute effort on the road in game five.
Just over three minutes into the first period, Sebastian Aho opened the scoring with a long-range wrist shot from the top of the right circle, capping off a long offensive zone shift that saw the first line mount four shots on Carter Hart.
The Hurricanes kept their foot on the gas through the middle portions of the opening frame, and that first line centered by Aho was the driving force.
Andrei Svechnikov entered the offensive zone on a 2-on-1 rush with defenseman Brady Skjei at 11:08 of the first period. He went for the clean shot, which rang off of the crossbar, bounced down to the ice, kicked up and was whacked home in mid-air by Skjei for an unbelievable hand-eye goal. Skjei’s goal made it 2-0 and put the Canes well on their way to taking a big 3-2 series lead.
Carolina held onto that two-goal lead through the the rest of the first period, outshooting Philadelphia 13-6 in the process.
The Flyer came out with some more energy in the second period, hemming the Canes in their own end and forcing Petr Mrazek to string together his best six minutes of the night. Mrazek was up to the task, though, as he’s been throughout the postseason with his absolutely phenomenal performance in goal.
The Flyers kept knocking on the door in the first half of the period, but one big rush the other way, spawned by a bad line change from Philly, led to a dagger of a goal.
Jordan Staal pushed the puck out of his own zone after making a very good defensive play on Claude Giroux. Justin Williams advanced the puck and patiently waited for Jake Gardiner to jump into the rush and make it a 3-on-2. Williams found Gardiner, who hesitated and faked a pass to Warren Foegele before delivering the puck right back to Williams, whose quick-hitter of a shot beat Hart cleanly and made it a 3-0 hockey game.
The Flyers got one back, though. Michael Raffl’s long-range shot deflected off of Foegele in the high slot and beat Mrazek on his blocker side to make it 3-1, but that was the only goal Philadelphia could generate in game five.
Rod Brind’Amour’s group had an excellent shutdown third period at Wells Fargo Center. The Flyers had just five shots on goal in the third period, and they rendered an empty-net goal with over two minutes left in the game. Jordan Martinook was the one who deposited the tally that made it 4-1.
It was just one game, but Carolina’s game-five victory felt like the final nail in Philadelphia’s coffin. There was just a lack of fight-back from the Flyers on their home ice, and the Hurricanes took total advantage.
With that game in the books, game six shifted back to Raleigh with the Hurricanes looking to advance to their second straight Eastern Conference Final.
In need of a hero to lead the way, the Hurricanes took the ice for a potentially decisive game six on home ice. If you were to look up and down the Carolina bench for a hero, your eyes would go to a lot of places, but it might take a while before you saw Brock McGinn - the hero of the first round series against the Washington Capitals in 2019.
Well, keep your eyes on him.
A great start from the Flyers earned them the first goal. Sean Couturier put together an excellent shift, working hard below the goal line to retain possession of the puck before working it back to the blue line and deflecting a point shot by Mrazek not even two minutes into the game.
Philadelphia maintained pressure through the vast majority of the first period. They outshot Carolina 14-5 through 18 minutes of play before scoring their second goal of the period.
Kevin Hayes got sprung for a breakaway chance by defenseman Travis Sanheim. The Hurricanes failed to detect the lengthy centerman and they got torched as a result. That made it 2-0 late in the first period, and it sucked a lot of energy out of the building.
The second period started the same way the first period started (and ended). The Flyers were very clearly the more desperate team, and it seemed like an inevitability that this series would return to Pennsylvania for a game seven.
Then, it became the Brock McGinn game.
Just over halfway through the period, McGinn laid a monstrous hit on Tyler Pitlick in the Flyers’ zone. He then corralled the puck, worked it around the boards, and then charged the net in hopes of getting a return pass. He got his pass, but he rifled the chance right off of the post. A frustrated McGinn and company returned to the bench, but that was the spark that the Hurricanes desperately needed.
Two shifts later, Teuvo Teravainen slid a gorgeous cross-zone pass to Svechnikov on the backdoor for a tap-in goal to reignite PNC Arena and cut the deficit in half.
The Canes forced Hart to stand on his head through the rest of the second period, and the young goalie did just that and kept the game at 2-1.
Brind’Amour started the third period with McGinn’s line, and he was rewarded for it.
Right off of the opening face off, Joel Edmundson gained center ice and chipped a puck high into the air. McGinn won the race to the puck right along the goal line near the left-side boards. He swooped in, carried the puck behind the net and got Haydn Fleury the puck. Fleury patiently traversed the blue line before firing an unexpected return pass to McGinn in the slot. McGinn deflected the pass off of the crossbar and into the net.
The game was tied, and the momentum was totally on Carolina’s side.
The Canes kept that momentum for the next 10 minutes of play, and they nearly took the lead when Jaccob Slavin’s clear-cut chance got airmailed over the net.
Slavin made up for it, though. He made an excellent sliding play to break up a centering pass from the Flyers a few minutes later, and he won a board battle to gain possession and exit the zone. He skated the puck through the neutral zone before dropping the puck off to a fresh Nino Niederreiter. He and Martin Necas played catch in the offensive zone before Necas swung around the net and found a streaking Dougie Hamilton coming in from the blue line. He found Dougie, who quickly fired a gorgeous wrist shot over the glove of Hart.
The Hurricanes had three unanswered goals and a game-six lead.
With their season on the line, the Flyers mounted a push. They forced Mrazek to take the center stage, and he was there when the Canes very desperately needed him. His best save came on a backdoor pass to Giroux with just over four minutes to go, but he sprawled across the crease and made his biggest save of the postseason, robbing the Flyers with a miraculous glove save.
Philadelphia called their timeout with 1:59 left on the clock, and they pulled Hart for the extra attacker after winning the ensuing neutral zone face off. Despite keeping the puck in the Carolina zone, the Flyers struggled to gain clean possession. Then, as the final minute was announced to a deafeningly-loud PNC Arena crowd, the Canes cleared the zone.
With 44 seconds left in the third period, it was McGinn who came roaring into the offensive zone all by himself. He put the puck into the empty net, capping a comeback victory in game six on home ice and putting an exclamation point on Carolina’s round-two win over the Flyers.
McGinn added to his Hurricane postseason legend with his x-factor performance in game six. He was the unexpected hero, but with another huge impact in an elimination game, perhaps that unexpected part will go by the way side.
The Eastern Conference Finals will begin next week.