After falling behind 2-0 to the Tampa Bay Lightning to open the Eastern Conference Final, the fear of getting swept out yet again in the last leg of the East had been settling in for the Carolina Hurricanes.
Game three didn’t do much of anything to help, either...
This week, we have games three and four of the 2020 Eastern Conference between the Canes and Bolts, as dictated by NHL 20’s simulation engine.
For more information on how this series works, please refer to part one.
The Hurricanes opened the scoring in their first home game of the Eastern Conference Final, but they didn’t experience much in the way of success after that.
At the 6:03 mark of the opening period, Dougie Hamilton sprung Martin Necas for an odd-man rush alongside Vincent Trocheck. Necas shot the puck off the outside of the post, collected the rebound and masterfully waited and maintained possession of the puck while the rest of his team entered the zone. He dropped the puck to Jaccob Slavin, who fired a one-time shot over the blocker of Andrei Vasilevskiy to make it 1-0.
It took just 33 seconds for the Lightning to answer.
Anthony Cirelli got behind the Hurricanes’ defense, beat out an icing race and then gained puck possession for his team in the Canes’ zone. He then deflected a point wrist shot from Erik Cernak in the high slot, causing the puck to dart down and through the legs of Petr Mrazek to tie the game.
The Hurricanes had a strong first period, breaking the ice on the scoreboard and running out to a 12-7 lead in shots on goal.
A scoreless second period gave way for a huge third period, for the Hurricanes in particular.
Win the period, win the game, get back in the series.
Lose the period, lose the game, fall to a devastating 3-0 series deficit.
Carolina was clearly the better team in the first five minutes of the period, but it didn’t render a goal. The closest they came was a Haydn Fleury point slap shot that rang directly off the far-side post.
The Lightning regained some control in the middle stages of the period, but they also weren’t able to score the go-ahead goal. Petr Mrazek was excellent in the third period, holding the Bolts off with everything he had up until the final four minutes of the game.
With 3:48 left in the third period, though, the Lightning took the lead with a heartbreaking goal. Nikita Kucherov gained the inside positioning on Joel Edmundson and won the race to the net from the corner wall. He received a pass right on his tape and shoveled home his own rebound in front to make it a 2-1 game.
The Hurricanes used their timeout moments later and then pulled the goalie for an extra attacker, but those efforts weren’t rewarded with the goal they needed.
The Lightning beat the Hurricanes by a final score of 2-1 in game three en route to taking a 3-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Final.
For the the second year in a row, the Hurricanes were on the verge of getting swept out of the ECF.
The Hurricanes saw their fortunes flip in game four, scoring early and often to secure their first victory of the series.
Jordan Staal opened the scoring for Carolina on the first shift of the game. He got a bank pass off the boards from Brady Skjei and drove right down the wing for a power move attempt. He slid the puck through Vasilevskiy’s legs to make it 1-0.
Exactly seven minutes later, Nino Niederreiter scored a similarly powerful goal. From behind the net, he dropped his shoulder and bull-dozed to the front of the crease before chipping the puck over Vasilevskiy’s outstretched pad on the far-side. Less than halfway through the first period, the Hurricanes had a 2-0 lead.
That score ended up holding upon the conclusion of the opening frame, but the Lightning came out with desperation in the second period. It took a couple of goal-line stands and big saves, but the Hurricanes survived a terrifying early-second period push from the Lightning. Their ability to bend but not break spawned a great scoring chance and the game’s third goal.
Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen played a game of give-and-go following a great play from Jaccob Slavin to exit the defensive zone. Teravainen was on the receiving end of the passing play and capped it off with a gorgeous quick snap shot in tight.
That ended up being the dagger goal for the Lightning in the game. Their push back fell apart a great deal following Teravainen’s goal, which allowed the Hurricanes to largely coast their way through the third period.
Brock McGinn found the back of the net with a wicked backhander at 8:01 of the third period to make it 4-0 before Jake Gardiner sent a point wrist shot off a Tampa defender and into the net to make it 5-0 late in the game.
Game four featured a resounding win for the Hurricanes, who successfully kept their season alive and avoided another ECF sweep.
The Hurricanes have a lot on their plates moving forward, though. Game five will move back to Tampa. The Lightning are still just one victory away from punching their ticket for the Stanley Cup Final and putting the Canes’ playoff run to an end.