For the second time in three days, the Carolina Hurricanes watched Matthew Tkachuk score a game-winning goal in overtime as the Florida Panthers beat the Canes 2-1 in PNC Arena to grab a stranglehold on the Eastern Conference Final.
This time it was just 1:51 into the first overtime rather than in the final seconds of the fourth overtime, but the result counts just the same — after two games in Raleigh, it is Florida that has the 2-0 series lead.
For the Canes, it might be time to push the panic button. Two losses, both at home, both in overtime, and suddenly Carolina is headed to Sunrise for two games with the possibility of elimination inching closer after a 10th straight Eastern Conference Final loss for the Canes.
About last night:
So often in hockey, a playoff series (and even an entire Stanley Cup run) is won on the back of a goaltender playing his best hockey.
And boy, are the Hurricanes getting goalied so far in this Eastern Conference Final.
Through two games in this series, Sergei Bobrovsky has made 100 (!!!!) saves on 103 shots faced. That’s a save percentage of .971, and his goals saved above expected is even more impressive. In game one, Bobrovsky had a GSAx of 4.5. Saturday evening in game two, the GSAx was 3.49. Here’s a fun stat to show how historically phenomenal Bobrovsky has been, with obviously two of the three games in this stretch coming against the Canes:
Over his past 3 games, Sergei Bobrovsky has saved 11.47 goals above expected. That's the best 3-game stretch by any goalie in a single playoff season since the data became available in 07-08 pic.twitter.com/ioxqreg78r— Prashanth Iyer (@iyer_prashanth) May 21, 2023
Through two games against the Hurricanes, and this entire run for the Panthers really, Bobrovsky has looked simply unbeatable. I mean, look at this:
WHAT A SAVE!— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) May 21, 2023
Bobrovsky with a game-changing save to keep Florida level in the second period. pic.twitter.com/CwbeLmy6mb
The Canes are facing the hottest goalie in the world right now, and right now it’s Bobrovsky who is winning that battle.
A star steps up for the Panthers, again
This was included in the About Last Night after game one, but it’s worth repeating again: the Florida Panthers needed an overtime winner, and one of its brightest stars stepped up to deliver.
It was Tkachuk again, scoring on the final portion of a nice little tic-tac-toe from the Panthers to end this overtime session much, much, much quicker than that of game one. That’s now three overtime winners for Tkachuk this postseason, and his 18 points so far this playoffs is already a franchise record for the Panthers.
In two games this series, the Panthers have had one of their best players step up in the big moment and make a play to end things.
The Hurricanes, obviously, haven’t.
Sebastian Aho, not to put it all on him, started out the postseason hot, but he hasn’t scored a goal since game three against the Devils, and he had just two shots on goal with less than 0.1 expected goals created Saturday night. Martin Necas, who hasn’t scored since his two-goal effort in game four against the Devils, had just one shot on goal Saturday night.
The mantra of this Hurricanes team has generally been that everyone is going to contribute, and that’s fine. That’s one of the reasons Carolina has gotten this far, and it’s a reason the Hurricanes should still feel capable of mounting a comeback in this series.
But in games one and two when a star needed to step up, it was Florida’s top guy that made it happen.
A note of optimism
It’s hard to be optimistic about Carolina’s chances right now. Losing the first two games of a series is never a recipe for success, and losing the first two games at home is far worse.
But to be optimistic for a minute, there is reason to hope for the Hurricanes after the first two games.
If anything has proven true through 10 full periods of hockey, it’s that these two teams are unbelievably close to each other. It took four overtimes to decide game one. It took another to decide game two.
The margin between the Panthers and Hurricanes has been miniscule. In game one, the Canes won the expected goal battle 6.5-4.41 and the Corsi battle was a 145-126 (53.51%) edge for Carolina. In game two, it was a 4.49-2.85 edge in expected goals for the Canes with a 70-50 (58.33%) in Corsi.
Those stats are meaningless for the final score and result of the series, but they do show what the eye test has as well: there’s not too much splitting the Canes and Panthers right now, apart from Bobrovsky.
And to be clear, Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta were both excellent as well. Both games did go into overtime obviously, as both Canes goalies kept pace entirely with Bobrovsky. They just couldn’t stop the last shot.