In game three of their first round Stanley Cup Playoffs series against the Nashville Predators, the Hurricanes suffered their first loss of the 2021 postseason in excruciating fashion. In game four, they lost in… arguably more excruciating fashion, falling 4-3 and losing in double overtime for the second straight game as they saw their 2-0 series lead evaporate in Music City.
The Hurricanes now must regroup for what becomes a best of three, starting with game five at PNC Arena Tuesday.
As expected with an overtime loss, there were some things that went right and some things that went wrong for the Canes. Let’s break them down, and talk about last night.
McGinn comes up clutch
We’ll start with the positives. In the postseason, you need contributions from up and down the lineup, and the Canes got it from their fourth line Sunday. One of that trio’s members, 2019 playoff hero Brock McGinn, scored two rather large goals.
The first was a snipe off the post and in to tie the game at two late in the second period, a tally that sent the Canes into the third period even after what had been a lackluster middle frame.
McGinn ended up scoring twice in 2:08 of game time, as he then beat Juuse Saros with another well-placed shot while falling to the ice 13 seconds in the third period to give Carolina its first (and only) lead of the afternoon.
While his contributions weren’t part of a winning effort in game four, if the Hurricanes are going to make the kind of run they envision, they’re going to need contributions from players like McGinn throughout the playoffs.
A game to forget for Dougie Hamilton
If Dougie Hamilotn was hoping to use the playoffs as one final argument that the Hurricanes need to offer whatever it takes to keep him before he hits free agency this summer, he’s done the opposite so far.
With Jaccob Slavin out the past couple games, the Canes have needed other defensemen to step up. Brett Pesce and Brady Skjei have more than done so. But Hamilton has struggled mightily without his usual partner, and turned in an abysmal outing in game four.
Hamilton was on the ice for all three of the Predators’ even strength goals on Sunday, and was directly responsible for the first goal against of the game and the game winner, both by Luke Kunin.
On Kunin’s first tally, just 57 seconds into the game, Hamilton sent the Predators on an odd-man rush into the Hurricanes’ zone with a blind, errant pass into the neutral zone.
On the overtime winner, Hamilton for some reason decided it was a good idea to loop around the net and stand below the goal line rather than staying with Kunin, leaving him wide open to even the series.
Hamilton is also supposed to be the straw that stirs the drink on a prolific power play that has anything but prolific in these playoffs (more on that in a bit).
Granted, again, Hamilton has been playing without his usual partner, the rock solid Slavin, in these last three games. But, as a top defenseman in the league, and one who is about to get paid like one, Hamilton should be capable of playing at an elite (or even good) level regardless of who his partner is.
If you’re the Hurricanes, are you excited about potentially forking over $8 million AAV to a player who’s dependent on a specific partner to play well? If the Canes want to make a cup run, they’re going to need a much higher level from Hamilton, regardless of who else is or isn’t in the lineup on the blue line.
Nedeljkovic stands tall again, shows resiliency
Alex Nedeljkovic has been excellent for the Hurricanes in these playoffs. He had a solid playoff debut in game one, picked up the shutout in game two and has made 92 saves in the past two double-overtime losses.
The biggest question that remained was how he would respond to his first taste of adversity, the first goal he’d like back. Quite well, it turned out.
The Predators’ second goal was one that Nedeljkovic never should have allowed. He has to corral and cover that point shot, and his inability to do so leads to Ryan Johansen puting Nashville up 2-1 off the scramble.
The worry with a young goalie like Nedeljkovic on a goal like that is that he’d let it get in his head and snowball into the rest of his game. He did the opposite.
On the very next shift, Nedeljkovic stopped a 2-on-0 rush. He kept the Canes in the game through a poor second period until McGinn tied the game. After the Predators tied the game at three in the third on a power-play deflection goal (certainly no fault of Nedeljkovic’s), his lateral movement kept the game tied again and again.
He made 16 saves in the first and second overtimes before Hamilton’s gaffe allowed the Predators to win it.
So far through four games, Nedeljkovic has shown every trait of the Hurricanes’ goalie of the future, and one they can ride to a deep playoff run.
Punchless power play
The Hurricanes did plenty right in this game. They fired 61 shots at Juuse Saros, who was once again excellent. But, if there was one fix that could have given the team a victory and 3-1 stranglehold on the series, it would have been getting something, anything at all from the power play.
The Canes went 0 for 4 on the power play and simply didn’t generate much. Their final man advantage came early in the first overtime - where an ability to convert literally would have changed the outcome of the game.
On power plays right now, the Canes are too stationary, too stagnant, too perimeter-based. They’re struggling to get passes through and create quality chances. Something has to change there, with moving Teuvo Teravainen back onto the first unit standing out as an obvious potential solution.
Whatever the fix is, the Canes need to find it, and soon. A poor power play has been a major culprit in the team’s past two playoff exits - and is threatening to derail them again.
Time to move forward
It’s hard to imagine a more deflating way for a 2-0 series lead to go by the wayside than losing two games in double overtime. But it happened. What’s done is done. Now the Hurricanes must turn their attention to what becomes a best of three, with two of those games at PNC Arena, where the team is 2-0 in this series.
While Nashville certainly has momentum right now, and games three and four were as frustrating of losses as they come, there’s no reason to panic. The Canes are still in a good spot, and simply to refocus, regroup and focus on what’s made them so successful all season as they look to advance to the second round.