Things haven’t gone the Carolina Hurricanes way in their second-round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, with the Canes dropping both of the first two games on home ice to fall down 2-0 to the defending champions.
Tuesday night’s loss to the Lightning featured another game where the Canes struggled to produce much in the way of scoring, as Carolina’s lone goal came from Andrei Svechnikov in the final two minutes of the game with the Canes down two and their own net empty.
Wednesday morning following the game two loss, head coach Rod Brind’Amour, forward Sebastian Aho and goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic met with members of the media via Zoom.
Here is everything they had to say:
On the resiliency of the team and on why there’s reason for optimism still: It’s the group. It’s the character in the group. I don’t have to say much more than that. Nobody knows the outcome. Nobody knows how the bounces are gonna go, nobody knows that stuff. But I know how our guys are going to come to play. They’re going to give it everything they can. All I can tell you is why do I say that, because just watch us all year. That’s why.
On the status of Vincent Trocheck and on if Nino Niederreiter will make the trip to Tampa: [Trocheck] is getting looked at as we speak. He’s getting some sort of scan or something. We’ll know more on that. Nino is not coming.
On if Carolina has been the better team so far this series despite the results: We haven’t been the better team because we didn’t win, but I think our game has been more than good enough to win. You’ve got to give them credit. To me, they manage the puck, they manage the situations. That’s why they are great at what they do. They’ve been through it. They understand. But I think our game is right there. We looked at it this morning. I left last night getting asked about ‘how do you get more pucks to the net or traffic?’ We had tons of pucks to the net and tons of traffic. If you actually look at every shot that came in, we were at the net.
We were at the net. Our game is fine, we just can’t change. We can’t start opening up. The couple times that we did you could see that all of sudden there is a rush chance against. That’s not going to work. It is what it is. We know where we are at. We know we’ve got to go try to win a game there, and that’s all we’re focused on.
On what he remembers from his experience in 2006 of losing the first two games against Montreal at home and then winning the series, and on if he will share that with the team: I don’t know if I’m going to share it or not. Guys get tired of hearing about the past. It doesn’t mean anything to them. For me, the difference for sure between the two is that we were definitely the better team back in ‘06. You can’t really come here and say ‘oh, we’re the better team.’ They’re the best. There’s a difference there.
But, like I said earlier, I like the way we played these two games. It’s a bounce here and there, and if we were up 2-0 you guys would be saying how great we are playing. To me, we have to stick with what we are doing. Obviously we can clean up some things. We can be better at everything, but I like where we are at. I like how we are playing, but we’ve just got to convert.
On beating Tampa four times in the regular season and on that being a foundation to lean on: All the games were close. There hasn’t been one game that wasn’t in this whole time that we’ve played them. That’s not going to change. The foundation of our game, the foundation of how they play, no one is changing that at this point in the year. It’s just we can’t get away from it. We can’t get frustrated. We certainly can’t listen to the noise outside our room. We give it our best shot. That’s all we ask of these guys, to do it the way we need to do it.
On how he’s felt about the power play and on what more they can do to generate: I actually thought we were pretty good last night. We only had two. The back end of the one wasn’t great, but we had a couple chances off the rush. We generated some right away off the faceoffs. We got a couple good looks. At the end of the day, that’s an area that you obviously want to win, is that special teams battle. We haven’t, but we haven’t lost it either.
That’s an area that if we can do a little better, then yeah of course. But I know they’re thinking the same thing. It’s all areas across the board that we’ve got to be better. The margin of error in this game is very slim. You’ve got to fight for every little bit of it.
On Carolina’s struggles to score first and on how to reverse that: The easiest thing to do is look at the stat and say ‘wow, you must be terrible to start the game.’ That’s not the case. Most of the time our first periods are sometimes our best periods. Every team wants to score first and get ahead. That’s what we’re trying to do. When you get ahead you want to get the next one and keep going. How do we reverse that? Score the first goal. Get the first chance. I don’t know what else to do. We’ve just got to keep playing. There’s not a systematic thing that we need to do differently. We just need to get the puck there first.
On how he would assess his play in the series so far: Obviously not good enough. It wasn’t bad. I think the whole effort throughout the whole lineup has been good. We’ve been right there. But at the same time we’ve lost two in a row. We’ve got to be better to win those games and score some goals, too.
On if getting one goal early could maybe open the floodgates: Yeah. It helps a lot of times to get the first one and build the momentum on it. At the same time we’ve been right there both games. I feel like we haven’t maybe gotten the bounces, either. We’ve just got to work hard to get those bounces and trust the system to know that they’re going to go in eventually. And the power play is one area where we can be better, cashing those opportunities that we are creating on the power play.
On beating the Lightning four times in the regular season and on what they did in those games that they need to carry into this series: It’s the same game. I don’t think we have changed anything. Just the way we’ve been playing all year, we’ve been playing these two games. The system is there. The effort is there. We just have to trust and believe in ourselves and that the result is going to come. We’ve got to go to Tampa and do our best and do the same thing. When we have those scoring chances we have to cash in. That’s the only difference that we have to do better.
On Vincent Trocheck’s injury and on how much that hurts the team: It’s always not nice to see your buddy go down. That’s been all year for us. We’ve been missing players, big players, a lot of players at the same time. It’s always the next man up. Obviously [Trocheck] is a great player. You can’t just think that one guy has to do all the work for him. It’s always how the team responds. Every guy gets a little bit more, and that’s how you do it. Injuries are part of the game, and you just have to deal with them.
On the resiliency the team has shown all season and on what gives them a level of optimism heading into Tampa: All we think about is the next game. We’ve been talking as a group, it’s no different. This happens during the year. I think how we have bounced back in different situations has been good, and it gives us some confidence. All we’ve got to do is win one game, the next game. That’s our main goal right now.
On if Tampa’s penalty kill has been outworking Carolina’s power play and on how to change that if it has: I wouldn’t say it is outworking. If they are outworking, then there’s something seriously wrong. We have one more guy out there. Those are the situations in the game where you really want to build the momentum, if not score. I think for our power play we create a few chances per power play, but it’s just a matter of cashing those in. We have to get some confidence out of those.
On the mood and message of the team: It’s been the same. It’s been the same message throughout the entire year. We’ve got to stick to our game plan. We can’t deviate. We know what works best for us and what’s made us successful, and there’s no reason to change that right now. We’ve played two pretty good games so far.
We haven’t really gotten the bounces that maybe we get normally. But that’s how it goes. Sometimes you get those bounces, sometimes you don’t. Like I said, we’ve just got to stick to what we’re doing and what works for us, and hopefully sooner or later we get a bounce one way for us and that just kind of jumps starts us and we take it from there.
On the mentality heading into Tampa down 2-0: It’d have to be the same thing as if you were going in up two games to none, honestly. It’s just take one game at a time. You can’t look at the big picture, really. When you start doing that, you start trying to do too much and you overthink and you’re focusing on more than what you can control.
Really all we can worry about is getting ready to go today and get down to Tampa tonight, get a good rest and wake up tomorrow and get a good skate in the morning. And then try to take care of business tomorrow night. That’s what our focus is right now.
On Nino Niederreiter missing the first two games and on Vincent Trocheck getting injured in game two: Those are two big pieces. Obviously Nino missing the first two games, it feels like there’s a little bit of a hole there. We were missing something. And then losing [Trocheck] in, I think it was the second period maybe, they’re both big parts of our offense. And not just our offense. [Trocheck] takes a lot of faceoffs, power play, PK, 5 on 5 and big faceoffs in our own end.
It’s two big pieces, but we’ve been battling injuries all year with just regular injuries or guys missing time due to COVID. It’s nothing new for us to come out with that next guy up mentality. [Morgan Geekie] and [Steven Lorentz] have stepped up big when they’ve been in the lineup. [Max McCormick] has been great when he’s come in and played. Whoever it is, I think the guys are really confident with whoever comes in, and they’re confident that they’re going to step up and fill those voids.
On how he would assess his play and on if he’s been satisfied with his performance: I don’t know if you could say satisfied, right? If you’re looking at it, you’ve got two losses in two games. As much as you like the numbers and the numbers themselves might look nice, the only one that really matters is the win column right now. And we don’t have any. So personally, I think I maybe just kind of dropped the ball in the first game there. Just one mistake, and we might be playing five overtimes if I don’t have that little blunder there. It is what it is. You’ve got to move on.
Last night I thought that we didn’t really give them much. They had maybe three or four chances on the rush, and really the one big opportunity they had was that Kucherov mini-breakaway in the second period. That was honestly it. I thought the other odd-man rushes they had our D did a great job of forcing them to make plays quick and make it uncomfortable for them, and they had back pressure. They really honestly didn’t get a lot of great looks. It’s a little frustrating when you hold them to 15 shots and you give up two. I’d like to have that first one back, I think.
Like I said before, we’ve got to stick to our game. Eventually we’re going to get a bounce here, and that can kind of open the floodgates for us and we can get going and play with a little bit more confidence maybe. But for me, it’s just the next day, next puck. I’m not worrying about what’s happening right now. Like I said, the focus is to just worry about tomorrow and take care of business tomorrow night.
On the Canes scoring first just once so far this playoffs and on if it makes it easier as a goalie to play with the lead: It’s always easier maybe for me and the guys in front of me, it’s always easier to play with that lead. There’s such a different feeling. Things feel like they’re going your way. It doesn’t feel like you’re playing catch up. It feels like you can maybe dictate the pace of the game a little bit more. It’s huge. Obviously we want to get that first goal.
But in saying that, we’ve only gotten it one time, and in that first round we found success still somehow even playing from behind. It’s not the way you want to play. It’s not the way you want to continue to play, obviously. But for me, it’s just trying to keep us level as long as possible and just give us that best chance to win, whether we get that first one or we don’t.