On Tuesday night, things went from bad to worse for the Carolina Hurricanes, who again failed to get pucks by Andrei Vasilevskiy, lost a key forward and got swept out of their home-ice advantage against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
It’s now a 2-0 series after Tampa Bay went into PNC Arena and won a pair of road games. Now, the series shifts back to the home building of the defending Stanley Cup champions and things are looking bleak for the 2021 Central Division winners.
The first period was a fast-paced slop-fest for both clubs. There were tons of missed passes, dropped sticks and grade-A chances that weren’t capitalized on, but that didn’t really take away from how fun it was to watch.
It was a chess match that lacked any sort of real execution.
The Hurricanes got a number of quality opportunities to score, but they were denied by way of errant shots, blocks, and broken-up passes by the Lightning. That included a centering pass from Andrei Svehcnikov to Jordan Staal that was tipped right before Carolina’s captain could get to it.
The first penalty of the game came at 18:31 of the first period by way of an Alex Killorn hold on Martin Necas.
Carolina failed to capitalize on the man advantage before the final horn sounded, despite some very close calls. The 29 seconds of carryover in the second period didn’t render much in the way of offense, and shortly after that, the game turned on its head for the Hurricanes.
Less than two minutes later, Sebastian Aho got whistled for slashing Ondrej Palat after a great 2-on-1 chance for Tampa that was snubbed out by Dougie Hamilton and Alex Nedeljkovic.
The Canes killed the penalty and looked good doing it, but it didn’t take long for the Bolts to get one by Nedeljkovic, even if it was an odd shot that just managed to get through.
Killorn carried the puck into the high slot, flung a long-range wrister along the ice through traffic in front, and it wound up going by Nedeljkovic’s left pad and right inside the post to make it a 1-0 hockey game.
Tampa’s opening goal marked the sixth consecutive game and the seventh out of eight postseason games where the Hurricanes failed to score the first goal of a game. You can get away with it against the Predators, but it’s a recipe for disaster against a team like the Lightning.
At 16:08, A misplayed puck from Vincent Trocheck led to him taking a tripping penalty, which meant the Canes’ penalty kill was tested again, and while the result was the same, a painful miss was the biggest takeaway from another successful kill.
Aho and Martin Necas entered the zone on a 2-on-1 break. Aho found Necas, Necas made a move across the net, Vasilevskiy got beat, and Necas shoved the puck wide of a totally vacant net. It felt like a massive missed opportunity that would almost certainly come back to bite the Hurricanes, and it did.
To make matter worse, just moments after leaving the penalty box, Trocheck collided leg-to-leg with Warren Foegele just inside the Carolina blue line. Trocheck was slow to get up and didn’t put any weight on his right leg as he left the ice. He went straight to the Canes dressing room, returned for one shift in the third period, got off the ice quickly, and then didn’t return.
Rod Brind’Amour said after the game that it “doesn’t look good” for Trocheck moving forward, though no official updates were available during the postgame press conference.
An early third-period power play for Carolina gifted them a prime opportunity to tie the game. It was a must-score situation. Unfortunately, it was their worst-looking man advantage of the evening and things continued to spiral from there.
The third period was certainly the Hurricanes’ worst period. Their offensive struggles were magnified, the energy got zapped out of the building for long stretches, and they couldn’t do much to get the momentum rolling in their favor.
The dagger came from Anthony Cirelli at the 8:06 mark of the third period. A long stretch pass from Victor Hedman bounced around in the skates of Brady Skjei, the defenseman couldn’t corral it, and Cirelli beat him to a breakaway chance. He got it by Ned and it was a 2-0 game that felt like a 5-0 game.
The minutes following that goal were very frustrating for the Hurricanes. They simply couldn’t generate any offense, and Tampa was extremely stingy. They didn’t give the Canes much room, and it took a last-ditch effort in the final minutes to penetrate the scoreboard.
With the goalie pulled, the Hurricanes broke Vasilevskiy’s shutout with 90 seconds left in the game. Staal found Svechnikov in front and Svech managed to get it through Tampa’s Vezina nominee and make it a 2-1 game.
Carolina called their timeout after the goal, but it was too little too late for the Hurricanes, who failed to score on a final flurry of chances at 6-on-5 play.
The final horn sounded and the realization started to set in that the Hurricanes had blown their home-ice advantage and fallen behind 2-0 to the defending Stanley Cup champions.
This one hurt. The Hurricanes should have won this game. They outshot the Bolts 32-15, practically erased Tampa’s stars from the game, and gave up very few chances against, but they just couldn't find an answer for Vasilevskiy and Tampa’s team defense.
Now, the series shifts to the Bay. Down 2-0, the Hurricanes have to dig deep if they want to push this series back to Raleigh.
They’ve bounced back many times since the start of the 2021 season, but they’ve yet to face a challenge quite like this.