By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
RALEIGH — With his team in what is essentially a must-win head-to-head with the Bruins in tonight’s Game 3 at PNC Arena, Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour is officially playing mindgames.
His latest move: Refusing to tell the assembled media who he plans to start in net.
“I know who we’re starting, but you’re gonna have to wait and see,” Brind’Amour said during his morning availability. Brind’Amour added that he “didn’t wanna be that guy,” which is something I’m still trying to understand. (He’s the head coach. Who else would be that guy in this scenario? I don’t believe it’s the popcorn vendor outside section 104.)
It’s enough to make your eyes roll out of your head and most likely through Petr Mrazek and into his net. .
It’s not an unfamiliar road traveled by the first-year head coach, though, as Brind’Amour did the same thing before last Thursday’s Game 1 at TD Garden, leaving you guessing up until the pregame warmup. But the rationale is certainly different this time around, as it hasn’t nothing to do with the health of the struggling Mrazek, but rather the fact that Brind’Amour is doing whatever he can to keep the Bruins on their toes in an effort to slice their 2-0 series lead in half.
What we do know: It’s either going to be Mrazek or it’ll be Curtis McElhinney. Mrazek has been just plain disastrous through the first two games of this series, with 10 goals surrendered on just 52 shots thrown his way (an .808 save percentage). McElhinney, meanwhile, hasn’t played since Game 4 of Carolina’s second-round sweep over the Islanders, but is a perfect 3-0 and has what would be a playoff-leading .947 save percentage over that stretch.
The leaky block of Czech cheese or a veteran journeyman who hasn’t been in game action in 11 days. If there’s a mystery to be found here, it comes when wondering how the ‘Canes have survived this long with this duo in the first place.
But Brind’Amour’s decision — or non-decision in this case — means almost nothing to the Bruins.
Nor should it.
Playing Mystery Goalie is almost always the first move of the defeated. Hell, Barry Trotz tried it against the Hurricanes last round and he got swept for his troubles. Unless you’re talking about a six-minute presentation ruining your entire gameplan (an unlikely story for any team that’s three rounds deep), it just throws absolutely nobody off, because most teams can sniff it out from a mile away. The fact that Brind’Amour let Mrazek absorb the entirety of that Mother’s Day beatdown from the Bruins all but confirmed that you’d probably, most definitely see McElhinney in net for Game 3. (And no, I don’t care that Brind’Amour hasn’t pulled a goaltender this season. Any coach worth a cent should know the difference between Game 2 of the conference finals and Game 56 of the regular season against the Whocares Itdoesnotmatters.)
Cassidy essentially admitted that they’ve prepared for a potential swap, too, and doesn’t sound like somebody stressed out by having to add a quick presentation on McElhinney’s strengths and weaknesses to his Tuesday morning agenda.
“Well we haven’t seen [McElhinney], so there’s that element,” Cassidy said of the challenge that comes with a potential switch in Carolina’s crease. “We have some knowledge on him. Our goalie coach (Bob Essensa) will do a presentation, did a little bit this morning just in case that happens, but I don’t think it will change our preparation much.”
“It doesn’t matter, they’re both good goaltenders,” B’s defender Connor Clifton said. “No matter who we see, we’re probably going to do the same: Get bodies to the front like we’ve been doing and make our plays.”
And for a Boston team that’s seemingly scored at will through 120 minutes of hockey this series — and with a power play that’s connected on four of their seven opportunities — the strategy seems simple no matter the pregame preparation.
“At the end of the day, we’re shooting to score,” Cassidy noted. “And hopefully we pick the right spot.”