It took more than half of a regulation game worth of overtime hockey for a winner to be determined in game three between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Nashville Predators, and unfortunately, the storyline from all of that hockey is the officiating.
There was much more to last night’s game, though. Up front, Carolina saw half of its forward depth chart show out and very nearly lead the team to victory, while the other half struggled mightily. On the blue line, the absence of a key player forced others into bigger roles and one player into his team debut on the big stage.
Game three is in the books, and there’s much to discuss.
Let’s talk about last night.
SAT Line Dominates, More Needed from 21-16-88
When Teuvo Teravainen returned from injury in the final weeks of the regular season, he was instantly thrown right back into the fold alongside Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov.
The Hurricanes knew that they needed that trio to lead the offense at even strength, so they wasted no time getting them back together and in a rhythm. That move has panned out very well.
In game three, Carolina’s first line was outstanding, contributing a whopping 35 even-strength shot attempts and rendering just eight against. That’s an 81.4% corsi rate. Their unblocked shot rate was 85.71% and they had an on-ice expected goal share of 84.07%.
Their real results matched the measurables. The trio was on the ice for two of the team’s three even-strength goals, including Brett Pesce’s game-tying goal with 3:11 on the clock in the third period.
Many of those same points held true for Jordan Staal’s line, which closed out the night with an even better xGF%. It was an entirely different story for the rest of Carolina’s forward depth chart.
Vincent Trocheck, Martin Necas, and Nino Niederreiter got caved in at even strength throughout the game and had very few answers for the Ryan Johansen line, which pretty much carried the Preds to their win by way of three goals, two of which were scored while the full Trocheck trio was on the ice.
The third goal they scored was the result of an unfortunate misplayed puck by Jake Bean in the defensive zone that led to the game-winning goal at 14:54 of the second overtime period.
The Hurricanes saw a lot of positive contributions from the fourth line in games one and two on home ice, but with matchups largely out of their hands in Nashville, the fourth line had their hands full and struggled.
You can get away with a bad fourth-line matchup on the road if you can get more out of your top-nine as a whole, but with Trocheck’s line struggling the way they did, they couldn’t finesse their way out of noticeable problems on Friday night.
The Second “C” Stands for “Can’t Really Replace Him”
For the second straight game, the Hurricanes were forced to play without Jaccob Slavin, who has been dealing with a lower-body injury over the past two weeks that will likely play a role in his availability throughout the postseason.
With no home-ice line-change advantage, the Canes opted to swap Jake Gardiner for Max Lajoie, the former Ottawa Senators defenseman who the team brought in as blue line insurance during the regular season.
Lajoie’s Hurricanes debut went well. Predictably, he was the team’s least-used defenseman, but he looked poised and comfortable in his limited minutes. He did everything that the team needed him to do - play a safe, minimal-mistake game.
Not having Slavin every night might not be a deciding factor in this first-round series, but it will be as the playoffs continue. The Hurricanes need him in the lineup.
Brett Pesce, Brady Skjei and Dougie Hamilton have done an admirable job of making up for his loss. Pesce had a nice night in game three, with the highlight of course being his first NHL playoff goal. Skjei was a big story in game two with how well he played in some very big minutes.
None of them can adequately replicate what Slavin brings, though, at least not on their own. Playing without a 24-26 minute defender who is as integral to the team’s breakouts and defensive structure as Slavin is huge, and it has certainly shown at times over the last two games after what was a pretty convincing win in game one effort.
His status moving forward remains up in the air. If giving him some rest now will help him play more down the road, that’s just a pill you have to swallow. This Canes team is good enough to beat the Preds without Slavin, even if these games will be a bit closer as a result.
But if this injury lingers and plays a role in his long-term availability in these playoffs, that’s a major red flag. He’s too important to this team for it not to be.
The Elephant in the Room
Okay, let’s talk about the officiating.
After not giving us much through two games of seemingly lopsided officiating, Rod Brind’Amour’s frustration boiled over in Friday’s postgame.
“Nashville is a phenomenal team,” Brind’Amour prefaced. “But we’re also fighting the refs. Plain and simple. You can’t tell me two games in a row we get seven, eight penalties and they get three. And when the game’s this even? That’s not right. That’s not right. I give my guys tons of credit for just sticking with it and going and playing their butts off and having a good chance to win. We still had a chance to win coming back. It wasn’t right. Two overtimes and a knick-knack penalty when there was stuff going on all over the ice? It just flipped the momentum and they scored on the next shift after because we were out of rotation. That’s not how it should go.”
Through three games, Nashville has had 17 power plays to Carolina’s 10. Over the last two games, the Predators have had 14 power plays and the Hurricanes have had six.
Obviously, it’s not as simple as “give both teams an even number of power plays.” That should not be what defines good officiating. Some teams are less disciplined than others. And well, that’s a fact. The problem is when teams are playing by a different set of rules.
Brind’Amour expressed frustration over the selective nature of the calls that were made and the inconsistency with which they were made.
A baffling sequence took place when Warren Foegele got two minutes for a puck-over-glass penalty in the second period after a lengthy discussion between the on-ice officials.
It just didn’t make sense. Either it hit the glass or it didn’t. If an official saw it hit the glass, then that should be that. If four officials get together and have no idea what happened, then they are essentially just flipping a coin.
While expanded replay has been a gigantic pain in the neck for teams and fans at times over the years, this is an area where it’s needed, and that’s a point that Canes TV analyst Tripp Tracy has correctly hammered home for quite some time.
For the record, it looked like the puck was deflected on the way out, but later in the game, the Hurricanes clearly shot the puck cleanly out of play and no call was made.
The penalty that Brind’Amour had an issue with was the hooking call on Max Lajoie that led to a Nashville power play in the second overtime.
It was absolutely a hooking penalty. The stick was on the hands. It was the correct call. But the problem lies in officials looking the other way on other “ticky-tack” plays throughout the course of the game.
If you’re going to call it by the letter of the law, do so at all times. If you’re going to let some things go, the standards have to be consistent for both teams.
The easiest way to go about it is to call penalties on plays that feature penalties. That should be the baseline. I know that’s a novel idea, but I am offering it to the NHL free of charge. They have my expressed written consent.
The “refs are out to get Carolina” narrative is a tired and fairly ridiculous one. I don’t believe that officials are going out of their way to hurt the Canes or any other team in the league, but I do believe there needs to be consistency in how these games are called and that there should be some semblance of accountability when that consistency isn’t kept.
There’s a legitimate conversation to be had about these issues that have plagued the league since the dawn of time, but it’s also true that the Hurricanes had a plethora of chances to win the game before Lajoie’s penalty and simply failed to capitalize on them.
Onto game four.