By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
RALEIGH --Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour didn't have any cliches for the assembled media following his team's 2-1 loss on home ice, putting them in an 0-3 hole. He rattled off a few, sure, but none truly captured how he felt about his team.
Not as much as what Brind'Amour said after essentially mocking the litany of coach-speak he could have tossed their way.
“I told the guys— this sucks," Brind'Amour said. "There’s no way around it. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. We got kicked in the you-know-where and it's gonna hurt for a while. But we'll pick the pieces up, give our best effort, and see what happens."
But the obvious takeaway here is that Game 3 felt like this Carolina team's last gasp.
They came screaming louder than their storm siren (Rasheed Wallace wanted to be anywhere but Raleigh and wanted to be doing anything but cranking that siren), and the Hurricanes by all means pulled a Thanos and threw a planet of pressure on Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask. But Rask, who was forced to make 20 saves (20!) in a first period that also came with six minutes of power-play time for the 'Canes, did not break. Even when the Hurricanes had looks at open nets or loose pucks, Rask's forcefield kept the B's out of danger. And when tested, Rask had more than enough poise to keep the Bruins in it.
The Bruins rewarded their lights-out netminder with a goal on their first shot of the second period, and added a second to it with a Marchand power-play goal bounced off Calvin de Haan's glove and through Curtis McElhinney.
The 'Canes made it a one-goal game behind a de Haan response goal, and brought PNC Arena back from the dead (with the help of about six thousand "Make some NOISEEEEE" directives from the PA announcer), but it wasn't even close to enough as the 32-year-old Rask powered the B's to a 3-0 series lead behind a 35-of-36 finish in net.
“The difference is they scored a power-play goal," said 'Canes captain Justin Williams.
No, the difference is in the Boston cage right now. It's clear to everybody.
“For me, I don’t know if there’s been another period [where he’s been this good]," Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said of his goaltender. "And I’ll tell you why— cause it’s the urgency and the time of the year."
In what's been a six-game win streak that propelled the Bruins out of round two and has left them a victory away from their first Stanley Cup Finals appearance since 2013, Rask has posted an absurd .956 save percentage. He's been especially effective on the penalty kill over the last two rounds, with a ridiculous .939 save percentage with the B's down a man. It's played out to some straight-up misery for the 'Canes, who are now 1-for-12 on the power play in round three.
And Brind'Amour is also speaking as a man who knows exactly what his team is up against in Rask.
"Rask is the difference maker," Brind'Amour said. "You can feel that."
In other words, they're cooked and they know it.
Here are some other leftover thoughts and notes from a 2-1 final at PNC Arena...
Wagner will be a big loss from Black and Gold's fourth line
Early indications are that Chris Wagner's postseason is over.
Injured on a third-period blocked shot on Justin Faulk, Wagner was seen with his right arm in a sling and going for further medical evaluation following Boston's nailbiter, and Cassidy himself said that it "didn't look good." And while Wagner is not like losing a Brad Marchand or Jake DeBrusk, there's no doubt that the Walpole, Mass. native has found a definite home as a major factor in the success of the Black and Gold's fourth line.
On the right side of a line with Joakim Nordstrom and Sean Kuraly, Wagner has tallied two goals on nine shots and tallied 14 hits through the first three games of this series, while the Nordstrom-Kuraly-Wagner has outshot the 'Canes 17-13 and generated 14 scoring chances in just under 31 minutes of five-on-five play together this series.
Cassidy has utilized the Nordstrom-Kuraly-Wagner line as his go-to energy line. They're out there for shifts immediately after a power-play opportunity, and sometimes Cassidy even gives that group a go as his starters. The good news for the Bruins, though, is that Noel Acciari appears ready to rejoin Boston's lineup. Subbing Acciari in for Wagner won't necessarily change that aforementioned usage from Cassidy, of course, but it will certainly come with a little bit of a drop in the line's offensive pop on the right side, as Acciari is not as quick or naturally offensively-gifted as Wagner.
But no matter who steps in for Wagner (Karson Kuhlman has been a healthy scratch for the B's, too), the Bruins now have to make Wagner's sacrifice count, and give the hit-loving winger a chance to lift Lord Stanley. Even if he's doing it in a cast.
In series short on wins on and off the ice, 'Canes made right call to Curtis McElhinney
Hurricanes goaltender Curtis McElhinney absolutely gave Carolina a chance to win this game. Much more than Petr Mrazek did in Games 1 and 2, at least. It actually makes you think what could have been had Brind'Amour been ahead of this one and got McElhinney in there went he should have (after Mrazek's leaky 23-of-27 loss in Game 1).
Carolina's power play has gone to hell
As mentioned earlier, Carolina's man advantage had six minutes to make something happen in the first period. That wasn't just three separate two-minute minors, either. The Hurricanes instead had a five-on-three for close to a minute, as well as a four-on-three for over a minute. They did absolutely n-o-t-h-i-n-g with it. It was downright embarrassing.
Now, they peppered Rask for a few looks, but it wasn't nearly the onslaught it should have been given their early jump on the Bruins, and the passive nature of their power-play units should have earned them some boos for actually being jerks.
“We had our chances," Dougie Hamilton, perhaps the greatest power-play offender of them all in what was another complete nothing night for the headcase of a defender, said. "Power play wasn’t good enough. Hasn’t been good enough for a while. We know they have a good power play, and they keep beating us in the special teams battle.”
And with an 0-for-5 on the power play to their name in this one, the Hurricanes dropped to an unfathomably terrible 1-for-12 on the man advantage, and with 11 straight failures while up a man. Woof.
Game 4 will be Thursday night at PNC Arena.