The Carolina Hurricanes seemed to be primed for a big bounceback effort against the Boston Bruins on Sunday.
Accompanying the return of Antti Raanta to the Carolina net was the absence of Boston’s top defenceman, Charlie McAvoy, who was scratched from the lineup just an hour before the start of game four due to being placed on the COVID-19 list.
On top of that, the B’s went without Hampus Lindholm, their significant trade deadline acquisition, again on the blue line.
As promising as much of the first half of the game was for the Hurricanes, the second half was exponentially more disheartening and wildly concerning.
The Canes blew a pair of leads, gifted the Bruins with nine power plays and multiple long 5-on-3 chances, and simply fell apart in grand fashion in front of a rabid Boston crowd en route to a 5-2 game-four loss.
The Hurricanes got off to one of their better starts of the series in the opening moments of the first period, generating a few quality chances before procuring the game’s first power play.
Carolina came up empty on the early man advantage and again on their second try nine minutes later, but they did break the ice with the game’s first goal at 14:06.
An excellent passing sequence in transition ended with Jordan Staal firing the puck to a streaking Brett Pesce in the slot, and Pesce put the high-danger chance under the pad of Jeremy Swayman to make it 1-0.
Just a few ticks over two minutes later, though, the Bruins responded.
Boston captain Patrice Bergeron jumped all over a loose puck at the side of the Canes net and made a slick move to maneuver it through the legs of Antti Raanta to tie the game.
Carolina’s captain had some tricks up his sleeve, as well. Just 33 seconds into the second period, Nino Niederreiter slid a gorgeous behind-the-back centering pass to Jordan Staal. The veteran pivot rifled a quick shot by Swayman on the short side to give the Hurricanes their second lead of the game.
A hot start to the second period wouldn’t last, though.
Andrei Svechnikov started a borderline unbelievable parade of penalties for the Hurricanes in the middle frame. It started just 59 seconds into the period with his retaliatory interference of Derek Forbort and was quickly followed by Vincent Trocheck clearing the puck right into the stands just 38 seconds later.
Carolina certainly bent, but they didn’t break during the long 5-on-3 sequence.
That was far from the end of the penalty drama, though.
The Hurricanes successfully killed a Teuvo Teravainen hooking penalty just before the 16-minute mark of the period, but a minute and a half later, they went back to work when Niederreiter got the gate for tripping.
On their fifth power play of the night and their fourth of the period, the Bruins finally capitalized by way of Jake DeBrusk shoving a loose puck home from under Raanta. Rod Brind’Amour challenged the goal for goalie interference, which failed, and Boston was awarded another power play as a result.
Less than a minute into that penalty kill, Sebastian Aho high-sticked Bergeron. It drew some serious blood, which added a four-minute double-minor to the equation and another long 5-on-3 for the Bruins with just 25 seconds to go in the middle frame.
In the early moments of the third period, the Bruins took their first lead of the afternoon.
In the dying moments of the 5-on-3, Brad Marchand rifled a wrist shot by the glove of Raanta to make it a 3-2 game.
The Hurricanes went on to kill most of the remainder of the Aho double minor, which was partially nullified by a Matt Grzelcyk high-sticking minor.
4:46 into the third period, the Hurricanes and Bruins finally returned to 5-on-5 play, and the Hurricanes had work to do to regain some kind of momentum. Instead, they fell even further behind the eight-ball.
At 5:41 of the third period, Marchand got a step on Brady Skjei down the wall, created enough space to guide a slick centering pass to David Pastrnak in front of the net, and Pasta navigated around the outstretched pad of Raanta to establish the first multi-goal lead of the game.
A remarkably pointless crosscheck to the face of Curtis Lazar by Tony DeAngelo at the halfway point of the third period again delayed a potential pushback from the Hurricanes in the second half of the final frame.
DeAngelo’s trip to the penalty box marked the Hurricanes’ ninth penalty kill.
The Hurricanes briefly threatened at points down the stretch, but they never sustained that pressure for more than a few shots on net. Marchand capped the game off with an empty-net goal to make it 5-2 with 35 seconds left.
While the penalties will be the story of game four, the lack of composure and competitiveness down the stretch is probably the most concerning aspect of the loss. The Hurricanes got overwhelmed and fell apart at the seams in a hostile environment.
Both teams have swept their two home-ice opportunities, which should hopefully bode well for the Hurricanes as they return home for Tuesday’s game five. Still, there is no denying that every ounce of momentum in this first-round series is now going in the direction of the Boston Bruins.