The Boston Bruins took a 1-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Final against the Carolina Hurricanes Thursday night, punishing the Hurricanes for taking penalty after penalty. Whether or not the penalties were evenly distributed between the teams is a non-issue. The Hurricanes spent way too much time in the box and Boston made them pay as a result.
The argument can be engaged, wherein Hurricanes fans complain that this was not called or that was called but should not have been and how unfair the officiating was in the game. But, at the end of the day, it is still going to be 5-2 Bruins and the Hurricanes will need an answer to tie the series before heading home for Games 3 and 4.
Hurricanes Hanging Tough
The truth is that the Hurricanes were hanging tough with the Bruins as they have been throughout the playoffs. They’ve already survived a bruising style of play with their series win against the Washington Capitals. They have grown up fast in this different world known as playoff hockey. Undaunted by the likes of Alex Ovechkin and the Caps’ formidable power play, the Hurricanes have faced every obstacle they’ve encountered thus far in their quest to advance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
They swept a very good New York Islanders team that had two of the best goaltenders in the entire league. They played their brand of fast forechecking hockey on their way to a 4-0 series win and a week of rest and healing for the likes of Petr Mrázek, Micheal Ferland and Jordan Martinook.
Facing off against the Bruins promised to be a lot of Capitals-style play with some Islanders-style mixed in, too. The Bruins are a punishing, hard-hitting team with a hot goaltender. They also have the talent to play a more determined style like the Islanders. The Hurricanes were going to have to be prepared to get knocked around and also be ready for fundamentally sound hockey. For a while Thursday night, they met all of that head on and were leading against the Bruins 2-1.
Hurricanes Third Period Penalty-Fest
Going into the third period up a goal on the road in the Eastern Conference Final put the Hurricanes in the position to steal one and cause some major concern among the Bruins and their fans. But, even before the game had started, head coach Rod Brind’Amour said that the penalty box would definitely not be his team’s friend. Brind’Amour said,
It reminds me a lot of this first series we had with Washington, that battle. We know they have a good power play, and the best way to combat a good power play is not to take penalties. It’s not how you’re gonna kill it, everyone tries to do the same thing for the most part. They have elite players for a reason. So, staying out of the box is going to be crucial.
Brind’Amour nailed it, obviously as his Hurricanes’ 2-1 lead disappeared in a flurry of third-period penalties. Dougie Hamilton was the one who demonstrated that the penalty box was not a friend to his team, with two penalties that led to two goals and the Bruins taking the lead, and eventually, the game.
There was a lot of controversy surrounding the Hamilton penalties, which led to the inevitable accusations that the referees were not calling the game fairly and on and on. Even Hamilton was at a loss after the game to understand the penalties: “I just watched both of them and I didn’t agree with either,” Hamilton said. “Not much else to say. The game’s over now and nothing you can do about it.”
Hamilton is right. The fans and even the team can scream all day about the inequity of the penalties that were called. Or the glaring mistake surrounding a penalty that was called against them, but it won’t do a bit of good. Brind’Amour said to stay out of the box or it would hurt. The Hurricanes didn’t and it did hurt. They are down 1-0 in the series.
It is true that officiating can influence the outcome of a game. The NHL should demand that its officials are sterling and spot-on with their calls. Admittedly the calls against Hamilton were questionable. But, the Hurricanes have shown they can kill penalties as they did against the Capitals and as they did against the Bruins three out of the five times they were down a man Thursday night.
The Hurricanes have another chance on Sunday to steal one on the road in Boston. The Bruins will be ready. The ‘Canes have shown they can play with them but must limit their mistakes. If the refs are going to beat them, then there is nothing they can do. Best to score early and often and take the officials out of the equation.
That will be easier said than done with the likes of Tuukka Rask playing some of the best goaltending of his career. But, some was Robin Lehner. The Hurricanes are not outmatched or outclassed. They just need to play their game and continue to believe.
Mark lives in the Raleigh, NC area and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.