The Tuesday loss ended the second-round series, with the Lightning winning it 4-1 to advance out of the Central Division and into the final four.
Following the game, Canes’ captain Jordan Staal and forward Sebastian Aho spoke with members of the media via Zoom. Here is what they had to say:
On if this was just a team that is a little bit better and more experienced getting the better of them: I think we have to be better, obviously. We got beat in a lot of different aspects of that series. I think throughout the lineup, including myself, there’s guys that need to be a little better. We just need to be more committed to our system and play stronger. Like you said, I think we’re right there. We’re very close. It was a very good team that obviously got the better of us.
On if Andrei Vasilevskiy was in the Canes’ heads: I don’t know. He made some big saves, timely saves. Good goaltenders do that, and he did a good job of not letting us get some momentum and get the crowd into it. He was pretty solid obviously all series. A very good goaltender. I wouldn’t say he stole the show tonight, but he definitely made some key saves to keep us at bay.
On if this is an opportunity to learn from the scar tissue of a loss like this: We’re gonna have to learn from it, obviously, if we’re gonna want to get to the next level and be an elite team. Like I said, we’re very close. We obviously had a strong season. We had a solid playoffs. We just couldn’t quite pull it together here at the end, or close to the end I guess. We’ve got still a lot of really good young players that get it and are understanding the game and understanding how to win. We can still find a way to be better in all aspects, including myself, and we’ll get there.
On if the crowd cheering at the end reminded them how much bigger than just hockey this season was: There was a lot of stuff going on this year. Obviously with COVID and it kind of moving through the room and different stuff. It’s every year, I think. There’s adversity and stuff that goes on. That’s part of the fun, I think. It’s just the journey of battling with these guys. We’ve got a great group of guys. We had a lot of fun this year, and we did a lot of good things. It’s great to see our young guys grow and become elite players. It’s only going to get better here in Carolina with those young guys and the group we have. It’s exciting times and our fans can see it, I think, and appreciate it. We battled hard, and it’s unfortunate and disappointing that we came up short. A lot of good things going forward.
On how rewarding of a season this will be looking back on it: We had a great season going. There was a lot of positives and things that really clicked. You could tell our team was rolling. I thought we battled hard in that first series. Nashville gave us a good run, and we battled through adversity there. We kind of stuck with it. Throughout the whole season was some good times and some good things. Obviously a sour taste at the end.
On what he is most proud of: Just our group in general. There wasn’t a whole lot of waiver in this room. Like you said, with COVID coming through and guys stepping up and injuries, it was a group that just kept working. That’s always been our identity here in Carolina. The guys brought it every game. That’s what you’ve got to be proud of, I think. There’s times where it doesn’t work out. You might not always win it all, but we’ve got a group that gives its all every game. I think the fans appreciate that. I think you can tell our group is giving its all every time.
On the organization and the future: There’s a bright future here in Carolina with the young group we have and the D corps and the right things moving forward with [Rod Brind’Amour]. It’s all good stuff. I think Carolina throughout the league is starting to make a name for itself that we’re gonna be a tough team to play against every night. That’s wanted to be our identity since the start, since [Brind’Amour] came here. I thought we accomplished that this season and showed up every game and made sure that we were in every one of them and weren’t giving up. We’re gonna keep trying to build that and keep getting better and try to move farther and farther into the playoffs.
On if this season felt like a step forward for the group: I don’t know. It doesn’t feel like that right now. We had, in our minds, something different than this. I thought we were ready to take the next step. The next step is to be the best, right? A lot of good things. I’m proud of the effort. I love the group. I enjoyed this year with these guys, but at the same time it’s not a step forward because we didn’t get the ultimate goal.
On what it feels like if not a step forward: It feels pretty bad right now. I don’t know. Maybe tomorrow or in two days I can give you a better answer, but I feel not good right now. It sucks. But it is what it is.
On Alex Nedeljkovic’s performance and growth all year: All year he’s been huge for us. He played a big part in why we even got this far. He robbed some games for us and at least gave us a chance to win every night, which is all you can ask from your goalie. Even tonight he gave us a chance. He made huge saves and kept us in the game. But obviously we have to score a few goals to win against as good of a team as Tampa.
On the difference in the series as a whole: It’s such a small margin. Games could go either way. But if I had to say one, it’s got to be the special teams. Today they got a power-play goal, and that’s the game-winning goal. We didn’t get any. That’s the game. The guys who play on the power play and penalty kill, it needs to be better. That’s probably the top PK in the league, but guess what. They’re the defending champs, and it’s a pretty good run they’re making right now. Those are the things where you’ve got to be better, for myself today. It’s one part of the game if the team wants to win, I’m one of those guys who plays a lot of special teams. I’ve got to be better.
On how special it was to play in front of the fans in the playoffs: It was amazing. We enjoyed every moment to see fans out there, especially here in PNC. To see all the Caniacs supporting us. It’s a loud barn. It’s part of the game and obviously makes the game even better and feels amazing. Even on the road, you want to see those people. It makes the game more fun, and I obviously appreciate every moment of these playoffs.