The pressures of game seven are always burdensome, but the emotions of Saturday’s winner-take-all matchup between the Carolina Hurricanes and Boston Bruins were ratcheted up a great deal.
A lot of history went into those emotions for a large portion of a Carolina roster that had gone to battle with the Bruins twice in three years and found themselves on the wrong side of four and five-game series.
This year, the Hurricanes were different. They were poised. They played their game, confident that it would put them on top in the end.
When the final buzzer sounded on Saturday, the Hurricanes celebrated a series win, locking in their date with a Metropolitan Division team in round two of these 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Let’s talk about last night.
The Max Domi Game
Following an established trend for most of the 2021-22 season, it was a different hero for the Hurricanes on Saturday.
In game seven, it was trade deadline addition Max Domi who stole the show and made the difference.
His ultra-composed touch pass along the goal line with just a minute to go in a scoreless first period gave Carolina the momentum they needed going into the first intermission.
From there, it was Domi’s finishing ability around the front of the net that boosted the Hurricanes to three goals in a tight-checking elimination game.
Going back to his time with the Columbus Blue Jackets before the trade deadline, Domi had scored just two goals in 40 games, entering game seven on Saturday. Still, when the Hurricanes needed an x-factor, they got it from a guy who, not dissimilar to his linemate Teravainen, had been a much bigger playmaking force than a goalscorer.
“He’s so quick,” said Rod Brind’Amour of Domi. “And he’s got a touch. Whenever he gets the puck, he does good things with it. Tonight obviously, he showed that. He was the difference-maker tonight.”
While Domi was the game's story, it was the top-to-bottom effort that the Hurricanes put in that made the difference against a Boston team that had haunted them over the past few seasons.
In his first game of the 2022 postseason, Steven Lorentz led all Carolina skaters in expected goals-for at 5-on-5. That fourth line with him, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and Martin Necas were a force in limited minutes, again hammering home that the Hurricanes can roll four lines throughout any game, regardless of the stakes attached.
Carolina’s most used forward at 5-on-5 was Jesper Fast, who clocked in at 14:21 of even-strength ice time. There was a difference of fewer than three minutes in 5-on-5 ice-time between Fast and the least-used forward in the Hurricanes’ top-nine group.
“No matter what, we come in waves,” Domi said. “Every guy can come in here every night. The guys stepped up tonight. It’s massive.”
The Antti Raanta Series
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the Hurricanes’ series win was that they did it without their Vezina contender Frederik Andersen.
It’s been a long, winding road for Raanta to get to where he is now. He started his first playoff game in game one of the series, just ten days before his 33rd birthday, and he was the starter in each of Carolina’s four wins against the Bruins.
Even that was in question, though, after a collision with David Pastrnak in game two provided yet another health scare for the Carolina netminding group, but he came back just four days later and held serve on home ice the rest of the way.
In six round-one starts, the backup to Andersen had a .927 save percentage. That numbered ballooned to .962 in his games at PNC Arena.
“I think at the All-Star break, it started to feel like I was also contributing,” said Raanta of his up-and-down first season with the Hurricanes. “I think guys started to trust me, and I was able to show that I can also do the job. I think when the playoffs started you have the confidence as a group. When one of the best goalies in the league goes down with an injury, it’s going to sting a little bit, but we’ve been playing the whole year, and the team in front of me is doing a great job. I just tried to do my job to get the win.”
He did more than “just his job” on Saturday. His stellar performance, especially in the second and third periods, shut down a seasoned yet desperate Bruins club to keep the Hurricanes in front and allow Domi and company to build on the lead.
Beyond his ups and downs on the ice, Raanta’s season carried even bigger struggles off of the ice with the loss of his father.
“Before the game, we were talking with [Paul Schonfelder], and we always have the chat before the game,” said Raanta after the game. “He told me, ‘whatever happens today, your old man, wherever he’s watching, he’s super proud.’ I think that was the last thing to get in my head. Whatever happens today, it was obviously great to get the win and have my kids in the stands and lots of people texting me, and lots of people in Finland staying awake for today’s game. It’s great. Obviously, it would be great if my dad was here to see this, but I’m sure he’s somewhere, and he’s super happy.”
His kids didn’t stay in the stands after the game, as we were all blessed with a beautiful moment in the postgame press conference.
A special visitor for Antti Raanta during his post-game media availability.— Walt Ruff (@WaltRuff) May 14, 2022
Very neat moment. pic.twitter.com/YrWIUer8Ot
It was the perfect way to cap off what was, in many ways, a perfect day for Raanta and the Hurricanes—knowing the emotions that Raanta felt on the ice today and throughout the season to that point, the result meant much more than a typical game seven.
After game one, I wrote about the added weight that this first-round series carried, given the history that this core of Canes players has with that core of Bruins players.
After failing to end the series in Boston in game six and looking as lethargic as they did along the way, there had to be some level of concern entering game seven. Frankly, a game-seven loss to this team would have been a failure.
Thankfully, the Hurricanes came out and very clearly put that loss straight into the trash.
With a record PNC Arena crowd behind them, Brind’Amour’s group looked calm and composed. They had their game plan, and they executed it impressively. Much like game one, no matter the score or the situation, there was never any sense of doubt or unease from a Canes team that has now been here and knew what to expect.
As intense as the physical battle was, the mental battle was even a notch higher.
“It’s a relief, for sure,” Brind’Amour said. “And then, the first round for me is always the most emotional. It’s always the one that’s the most intense. And then you’re hoping it goes on for another month and a half. It sucks a little out of everybody as it goes along. Sometimes getting out of the first round is actually the toughest because it’s so emotional. The next round will be emotional, but I think it kind of dies down a little bit as you move along. Now it’s getting refocused. That will be the next challenge.”
Now that the Hurricanes have slammed the door on the Bruins storylines that have plagued them in two of the last three postseasons, the focus shifts to the winner of the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers first-round series that will conclude today with a game seven.
Regardless of who wins, it will be a familiar divisional foe for the Canes in round two.