After a gutsy postseason run, the Carolina Hurricanes have once again been left bitter and disappointed after a 4-3 loss to the Florida Panthers ended their season in a 4-0 sweep in the Eastern Conference Final.
The Hurricanes fought until the end, unfortunately though, it was Florida that scored at the buzzer as Matthew Tkachuk scored his third game-winning goal of the series.
Despite the final series count, it was one of the closer series of the postseason. Every game was decided by just a single goal, and Carolina threw everything they could at Sergei Bobrovsky, but the Cats locked it down when they needed to and capitalized on their opportunities.
A difference was also the power play. Carolina’s finally went dry as Florida made the adjustments they needed on the man advantage and won the final three games thanks to power play goals.
A big tale of this series also was luck, and that did play a big factor, but star power can’t be overlooked.
Carolina should have gotten the better of a game or two, but they hit posts while Florida’s top guys — namely Tkachuk and Aleksander Barkov — sniped corners.
It’s a game of inches and the Hurricanes just couldn’t get those extra few, especially when Sergei Bobrovsky played out of his mind in the first three games.
The unlucky fate continued into Game 4 for Carolina, especially early.
The Panthers scored just 41 seconds in as Anthony Duclair’s shot hits the post and rebounded straight back to him for an easy goal.
Then Jaccob Slavin ended up looking down to control a bouncing puck and got lit up by Sam Bennett. His head proceeded to hit the boards and the ice and he would not return.
Then on the power play, a passing attempt by the Panthers took a crazy, off-course bounce off of Brent Burns’ leg and went directly to Tkachuk alone in front.
The Hurricanes did get on the scoresheet in the first period, but fate was nearly against them there as well. Brady Skjei let a puck fly from the blueline, where it glided off of Marc Staal, and rang off of the post and then bounced into Bobrovsky’s backside.
Bob very nearly covered it up and would have had he had one more second, but Paul Stastny managed to get his stick in the crease and shovel the puck in.
Carolina’s luck did actually seem to turn as a bounce finally went their way with a Skjei shot hitting Colin White’s stick and directing right to Teuvo Teravainen in the slot who had time to pick his spot and tie up the game.
However, Florida answered back soon after with their fourth line forcing a turnover as Ryan Lomberg hooked Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s arms to keep the puck in the zone and then it was a tic-tac-toe play that Lomberg finished off.
And then Stefan Noesen was ruled out of the game after he seemed to absorb a slash to the hand area from Aaron Ekblad.
After those two periods, the Cats were in cruise mode and it seemed like everything Carolina was throwing out was in vain, but then Jesper Fast broke through as he had so often this postseason.
Jordan Martinook won a puck battle behind the net and made a perfect behind the back pass which Fast finished off in the low-slot to tie the game in the final minutes of regulation.
But any hope of another trip to overtime was dashed as Jordan Staal wound up in the penalty box for a soft, offensive-zone trip with under a minute remaining.
With time counting down, Tkachuk took the puck from behind the net and circled around to the front and shot it home with just 4.7 seconds left in the game to dash any of Carolina’s hopes.
However, the league did initiate a review as Bennett’s stick was in between Frederik Andersen’s legs and seemingly prevented Andersen from being able to push over, however the league did not agree with that interpretation and awarded the goal to Florida, ending Carolina’s season.
The Hurricanes fought hard and had a gutsy run, especially after losing two top end scorers in Max Pacioretty and Andrei Svechnikov during the regular season. The total team effort carried them all the way to the final four, but eventually that lack of top-end scoring caught up to them.
It will be another offseason filled with questions on how they can improve, but with the core staying mostly intact for at least one more run, it will more than likely be a question of what to add rather than what to replace.