“It’s the worst way to lose. There’s no way around it.”
That’s what Rod Brind’Amour had to say about Carolina’s 3-2 loss Thursday night, a quadruple-overtime marathon to kickoff the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Canes and Panthers played 139 minutes and 47 seconds of hockey in PNC Arena Thursday night before Matthew Tkachuk ended things to steal game one for Florida on the road, sending the Hurricanes and the 20,000 fans in PNC Arena home both exhausted and dejected.
It’s a loss that officially counts as one loss — and that’s the mindset the Hurricanes have to take — but feels like so much more, especially to start a series and on home ice.
About last night:
A duel for the ages
The result for the Hurricanes was obviously a bummer, but Thursday night’s affair was still a pretty historic hockey duel.
The game was the longest in both Florida and Carolina history and the sixth-longest game in NHL history, as the Canes and Panthers went through a grueling, near-140 minute test of endurance and will. And while the result was brutal, the history of it is something that can be appreciated.
“Rod said it best,” said Seth Jarvis. “This is something we’re going to look back at in 10 years and laugh about how crazy it was...But we couldn’t capitalize. It sucks, but we’re going to have to trash it and move on.”
As is always going to be the case in these marathon games where the minutes keep adding up and no goals are coming, the story of the night for both sides was the unbelievable efforts of Sergei Bobrovsky and Frederik Andersen in the two nets.
Bobrovsky was, simply put, incredible. He made 63 saves on 65 shots faced in the game, stopping all 34 shots he faced post regulation. He had 4.5 goals saved above expected in the game, and there were some moments during the overtime periods where he stood on his head to keep Florida afloat.
And on the other end of the ice, Andersen was just as good. The Canes’ netminder made 57 saves on 60 shots faced, with 1.41 goals saved above expected. In the overtimes though, Andersen maybe had the slight edge on Bobrovsky in terms of jaw-dropping, game-saving saves.
“He was great,” Brind’Amour said. “He kept us in there and gave us a chance...Their goalie was great, too. It was a good goalie battle.”
A star steps up
As the game went along, the hockey got worse. Guys got tired, the ice got bad, and the product of the game stopped resembling NHL hockey so much with legs giving out.
And the farther into a game like that, the more you feel like it’s going to be a weird bounce that makes the difference on the game winner.
But that wasn’t really the case Thursday, as it was Florida’s star in Tkachuk that ended things on a goal that wasn’t the circumstance of weird, tired bounces. The Canes couldn’t clear the zone — yes, certainly somewhat a product of the exhaustion — and Tkachuk picked it up and rifled it home.
For Florida, it was one of the guys it needed to step up doing just that. And that’s something the Hurricanes didn’t get, though not for a lack of chances.
Sebastian Aho had 1.13 expected goals and six shots on net in the game, with quite a few chances that looked like they could be the end in overtime. Martin Necas had five shots on goal. Brent Burns had eight.
But none of them could find the game winner, as it was Florida’s star who stepped up to the big, exhausted moment.
Third-period push gives Canes a chance
The Hurricanes entered the third period trailing 2-1 Thursday night, after a second period that left much to be desired for Carolina across the board.
The Canes conceded two goals in the final five minutes of the second period, and both were pretty rough sequences for Carolina in terms of effort and execution. The first came from Aleksander Barkov, who was left completely alone as all four players in the play for the Canes (with Teuvo Teravainen having lost his stick) watching the puck.
The second goal came from Carter Verhaeghe, and it was a completely inability to keep playing from the Canes defensively that allowed the winger to skate into the slot and fire a wrister past Andersen to make it 2-1.
But for the Hurricanes’ poor overall play in the second period, the third period was the polar opposite. Before the marathon overtime sessions came into play, Carolina had to drastically change the way it was playing to even have a shot at winning the game. And it did.
During 5-on-5 play in the third period, the Canes led in scoring chances 13-0 while outshooting the Panthers 13-2. The effort was infinitely better from Carolina from the drop, as the Canes had three dangerous scoring chances in the Florida crease in the first minute and a half of the final period.
That effort paid off in the form of a Stefan Noesen power play goal under four minutes into the frame, as a beautiful little tic-tac-toe on the man advantage ended with Noesen roofing one to make it a 2-2 game.
From there, the Canes controlled the rest of the third period and found a few more scoring chances, though nothing to beat the very locked-in Bobrovsky in the Florida net.
Still, the Hurricanes absolutely had to have a better effort in the third period to have any chances of holding home ice in game one, and the effort was remarkably better.
“We got to it in the third,” Brind’Amour said. “It felt like ‘ok, here we go.’ But we just weren’t able to get the game-winner.”
Don’t let one loss turn into two
The biggest concern now for the Canes is obviously letting Thursday’s game one disappointment bleed into game two.
From a physical standpoint, both teams are going to be a step slower Saturday night in PNC Arena after playing two full games Thursday night. But from the mental side of things, it’s going to be a lot harder for the Canes to rebound from that grueling loss than it will be for the Panthers to look to build momentum — even with tired legs — off an exhilarating overtime win.
“Listen, it’s the worst way to lose. There’s no way around it,” said Brind’Amour. “We’ll regroup and come back at it again in the next one. It’s one game.”
That “it’s one game” mindset has to be what’s in the Canes’ heads Saturday, as Carolina cannot afford to lose another game at home to start this series. But the good news there is this Canes’ team has the leadership to do just that.
“It’s going to be a quick turnaround,” said Jordan Staal. “It’s about getting the body back to even as quick as you can. The mind, you have to take it as one loss. That’s not the way we want it. To play that long, you want to be on the winning side of it. But it’s a long series.”