The Carolina Hurricanes entered game two already down 1-0 in the series against the Tampa Bay Lightning. It’s tough to call any game two a must-win. However, the old saying goes “a series doesn't start until the home team loses” and when you lose game one at home, it puts the pressure on game two.
Coming out of the first round there were questions around the performance of the team. Were they able to win a series playing out of form, can they hit an extra gear or is this who they are? It certainly seems like the last series was who they are. They have not hit their regular-season form, and at many times they have just looked flat out lost and not on the same page.
After game one, much of the talk between games was about the play of goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic, who let in a weak goal that ended up being the game-winning goal on Sunday. However, this team cannot expect to beat the defending champs only scoring only one or two goals each game. Ned has done a good job keeping them in games all year, its time for the team to bail him out when he makes a mistake.
Andrei Vaskilevskiy Stays Hot
Early in the game, the Canes looked to be affected by Vasilevskiy’s play. They passed up good shots to try to make the perfect play. That extra pass didn’t lead to better chances, just turnovers. They also looked to be gripping the stick too much trying to force perfect shots. They missed a majority of their early chances high of the net.
Early on in the game they weren’t able to get back to their game and were limited to perimeter shots and dropping the puck to defenders for shots. This series is a lot like the one that happened two years ago against the New York Islanders. It is a race to score two goals. The main difference was that the Canes kept on their game and forced the action. In this series, they have been reactive and have been passive in their chances even on the rush with the man advantage.
After the first, they were able to generate shots, but relatively few high danger chances. Even outshooting the Lightning 32-15, they only generated five high danger chances. That is not going to be enough to beat a world-class goaltender.
Slumping Forwards and the Loss of Vincent Trocheck
For the Carolina Hurricanes to win, they must have better performance from their forwards. This goes for on the puck play as well as off the puck play. The Lightning were able to open up the scoring with net-front presence and a tip in front from an unlikely shot. The Canes have struggled to get anything going with their forwards or getting pressure in front of Vasilevskiy.
In two games, the Canes forwards have only combined for one goal, zero at even strength. No team is going to have sustained postseason success if the forwards can’t consistently score. Any team needs its top guys to step up, but the Canes aren’t getting anything from their top six. This team isn't just struggling, it’s been completely inept offensively in two games.
Last night the Canes didn’t force Vasilevskiy to even break a sweat. Outside of a single short-handed chance, the Canes didn’t connect on the rush for any odd-man chances. A majority of the shots from the Canes came from their defense.
This is a ridiculous play by the best defenseman in hockey pic.twitter.com/aRX6LgLUVo— Carolina Hurricanes (@Canes) June 2, 2021
Outside of Sebastian Aho, you are hard-pressed to find a forward who has made an impact offensively in this series. Teuvo Teravainen who normally drives play, hasn’t been setting up and driving offense. Outside of the late goal with an extra attacker Andrei Svechnikov has been invisible in the first two games of the series.
Now the Canes look to also be without Vincent Trocheck, who left the game in the third period after a collision with Foegele late in the second period after he returned to the ice from the penalty box.
Trocheck did not have a great first round, but now the Canes also look to be without their second-line center. This forced Rod Brind’Amour to shuffle the lines, none of which really seemed to get much going until the Canes pulled the goalie late.
This doesn’t bode well for the Canes, who were already struggling without Nino Niederreiter and are now down another top-six forward.
Ned Gives Them a Chance
In two games against the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the only reason the Canes have been in either game is Alex Nedeljkovic. There will probably be some chatter about starting Petr Mrazek over him, but there is no justification for that on the ice.
Alex Nedeljkovic stones Nikita Kucherov on a breakaway to keep this a 1-0 game. Remember this save. pic.twitter.com/V2bnoAGVEu— Michael Smith (@MSmithCanes) June 2, 2021
At times Ned looks like the only player dialed in for Carolina. He stopped three odd-man rushes himself in the first two periods. His ability to play the puck stopped many other rushes for the Lightning. It is mesmerizing to watch him skate out to play the puck.
In his two goals against, on one there was traffic in front of him with a tip. The second was a mini breakaway when Anthony Cirelli got around Brady Skjei to score on his backhand. While he only faced 15 shots, eight of them were high-danger chances, and he only let in two goals.
On to Game Three
The Canes have to look to get back to their identity in game three. When they play well they roll, and when they play bad, they play terrible without the ability to right the ship.
Look at last season, they swept the New York Rangers before losing in five games in an uninspired fashion against the Boston Bruins who also swept them the previous season. Now they have faced the Lightning twice without much play to be excited about. They haven’t shown the ability to dig out of holes or make their own luck.
Instead, they just continue to go into their own shell. Hopefully, they can build from their late goal with the extra attacker to give them some momentum heading into game three. If they do not, they will be swept in Tampa. This is the downside of now having expectations, the team will have to play well against the best teams in seven-game series, or the entire year will be looked at as a disappointment. It is no longer good enough to just sneak into the playoffs.