Hurricanes Takeaways: Bobrovsky’d Again in Game 3

Sometimes the breaks go your way, sometimes they don’t. The playoffs often come down to a series of little sequences, and after some time to reflect, the Carolina Hurricanes will likely look back on the first three games of the 2023 Eastern Conference Final and have their stomachs turn. After two heartbreaking overtime losses (that covered nearly five extra periods), plus a 1-0 loss in Game 3, the team will need a miracle in order for their season not to come to an end. The Florida Panthers once again suffocated the Hurricanes’ offense, and are one game away from sweeping their way to the Stanley Cup Final.

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The Hurricanes have done an incredible job of overcoming adversity and sticking to their game all postseason, but a couple stark differences in this series loom large. It’s been a crazy postseason so far, so you never say it’s over until the final clock hits zero on a fourth win, but the task nonetheless looks daunting. Here are some of the biggest takeaways that have led to the Hurricanes’ season hanging by a thread.

Hurricanes Still Don’t Have an Answer for Bobrovsky

I mean, what more can you say about the Panthers’ goaltender? He’s played over four games worth of minutes in a span of three official games. He’s seen 135 shots, and he’s stopped 132 of them. After a couple down years and some questions about his future in Sunrise, suddenly Sergei Bobrovsky is putting together a story for the ages. This time of year there’s really nothing more dangerous than a hot goalie, and I’m not sure “hot goalie” even begins to describe the play from the Russian netminder.

And for the second year in a row, the Hurricanes are getting goalie’d right out of the playoffs.

Sergei Bobrovsky Florida Panthers
Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida Panthers (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

The Hurricanes are usually the team that wins the dirty areas, that scores greasy goals by getting to the blue paint and jamming away. Incidentally, that’s the way you have to beat a goalie that’s locked in the way Bobrovsky currently is. It’s one of the reasons there was actually some optimism coming into the series, despite what the star goalie did to two high-flying offenses with significantly more scoring firepower in the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins. The Hurricanes had beaten two goalies that were pretty hot in their own right in Rounds 1 and 2, and that was largely thanks to their depth grinding away and finding ways to create offense. For example, Jordan Martinook came out of nowhere to post 10 points in five games against the New Jersey Devils.

The Hurricanes haven’t done that, though, and that depth scoring, along with the primary scoring, has dried right up. Rebounds have been there for the taking at times, but with no player in a white (or red, the first two games) jersey anywhere to be found. The Panthers deserve a lot of credit for winning that net-front battle, but the Hurricanes have fallen short at times in fighting for those rebounds and paying the price to get it done. The crease in front of Bobrovsky has not been mucked up enough, and his confidence and focus have soared because of it.

If you said before the series started that the Hurricanes would allow six goals in three games, you’d have never expected that they’d be staring a 3-0 deficit in the face. Alas, that’s where they sit, and a great season and playoff run suddenly look bleak.

Panthers’ Stars Continue to Best Hurricanes’

On the flip side of that, the Hurricanes need their stars to step up and change the sound of the game. Obviously the numbers aren’t going to be great when Bobrovsky has had the kind of success he’s had in the series, but when you look at the two teams’ top players side by side, the difference tells a really important piece of the story.

Sebastian Aho had by far his best game of the series in Game 3. He was flying from the outset and creating a ton of chances. Yet, for the third straight game, he scored zero times. The same goes for Martin Necas, Teuvo Teravainen, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi; four of the Hurricanes’ most important players have combined for a whopping zero goals in three games of the series. Of course, it’s really more like four in terms of actual game time when accounting for the four overtime periods. With all their injury issues, they have needed much, much more from their top players.

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Meanwhile, on the other side, Aleksander Barkov – who played just 3:51 in Game 3 after suffering an injury – had a goal and assist in the series opener, scored the tying goal in Game 2 to send it to overtime, and consistently won the top center battle with Aho. Their big addition last summer, 100-point man Matthew Tkachuk, scored the overtime winner in both games at PNC Arena. Sometimes your stars have to step up and be the gamebreakers, and the Panthers’ have done so more than Carolina’s.

Sebastian Aho Carolina Hurricanes New York Islanders
Sebastian Aho #20 of the Carolina Hurricanes battles Sebastian Aho #25 of the New York Islanders during the third period in Game One of the First Round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at PNC Arena (Photo by Josh Lavallee/NHLI via Getty Images)

This goes back to a wider conversation about the Hurricanes, and one that’s not new. Their bugaboo has been their inability to score goals in the playoffs, and now they’re once again looking for answers at the biggest juncture of the season. I hate to go back to the trade deadline, but the Hurricanes had some questions about their goalscoring ability even then, even with a healthy Andrei Svechnikov. They had $10 million to play with, and the only forward they acquired hasn’t dressed for a game in the series. You obviously can’t predict a catastrophic injury happening to one of your most important players, but you can’t assume everyone’s going to stay healthy, either. For the most part, the Hurricanes actually have gotten decent injury luck.

To further rub salt in the wound, Tkachuk was reportedly very nearly a Hurricane last summer before he landed in Sunrise. All of these little details will surely lead to some interesting conversations this coming summer, but that’s getting ahead of ourselves for now. You can bet on those conversations happening sooner than later, though, barring something unforeseen the rest of the series.

Bounces Just Not Going the Hurricanes’ Way

Not to oversimplify things, don’t get me wrong. But, sometimes the game comes down to a bounce or two, and the Hurricanes have certainly not been on the receiving end of that in the Eastern Conference Final.

As previously stated, the way the Hurricanes have created offense all postseason hasn’t been through lots of skill plays and dynamic passing, but through hard work and winning battles at the front of the net. Going through the list in Game 3 alone, Seth Jarvis had a deflection that stopped just inches from crossing the goal line, thanks to an athletic kick save by Bobrovsky. There was a diving blocker save on Aho and three separate posts. Heck, even the game’s only goal from Sam Reinhart slid up Jaccob Slavin’s stick before beating Frederik Andersen over the shoulder. The way things went last round, that type of play probably goes over the net, or into the corner. Things change quickly in this league, though, and that’s the way things are going now.

You could also mention the missed elbow Aho took right before the second-period penalty that led to Reinhart’s subsequent power play goal, or the late high stick on Shayne Gostisbehere that wasn’t called, but there’s no point in mentioning refs at this point in the playoffs. The human element says that they will always miss calls, and every fanbase feels shorted seemingly on a nightly basis. Regardless, as TNT analyst Paul Bissonnette said on the postgame show, the calls overall just didn’t go the Hurricanes’ way in this one. That’s hockey; sometimes it doesn’t go your way. The Hurricanes have needed something, a bounce, a call, whatever it may be. To this point, it simply hasn’t come.

Hurricanes Looking for a Glimmer of Hope in Game 4

The Hurricanes have lost 11 straight games in the conference finals, with their last win coming all the way back during their championship run in 2006. Heck, as crazy as the sport of hockey is, maybe finding a way to get that one win is all they need to break off four in a row. They certainly are due, after all. In a postseason that’s been as unpredictable as this one, it would almost be par for the course.

Sergei Bobrovsky Florida Panthers
Sergei Bobrovsky of the Florida Panthers makes a save against Jack Drury of the Carolina Hurricanes during the first period in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs (Photo by Cato Cataldo/NHLI via Getty Images)

They can’t rattle off a comeback without winning Game 4, though, and they’ll set their sights on doing so Wednesday evening back in Sunrise. The Hurricanes have positives to take away, as they played a very good hockey game in Game 3, and really did in Game 2 as well. The details – the battles, the goaltending, the penalties, and the bounces – are what kept them from winning the games. If they can sharpen up those things, along with catching just one little break at some point, perhaps they can get a minor glimmer of hope and get the series back to Raleigh for a Game 5. If not, it’ll be a sour, but very fascinating summer ahead for the Hurricanes, a team still trying to figure out how to get over the hump in the postseason.