It may be a Round 1 exit, but it doesn’t really feel that way. The Carolina Hurricanes hoped for a longer run, but the Boston Bruins once again blew the whistle on their season, eliminating the Hurricanes from the playoffs for the second straight year.
The good news is, the ‘Canes took a game and were much more competitive in this series than in last year’s Eastern Conference Final. Although they showed signs of progress, they’re still just a combined 1-8 in playoff meetings against the powerhouse Bruins, and it was the same old mistakes that did them in once again.
Bruins Provided the Shovel, & the Hurricanes Buried Themselves
The Hurricanes played this series much like the way they played their 2019-20 season – with a fast, aggressive, hard-hitting tempo, and a knack for taking way too many penalties.
The Hurricanes were guilty of 258 minor infractions this season – the second-most of any team. They got by thanks to owning the league’s fourth-best penalty kill, but between the swift puck movement of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Krejci, they were overwhelmed by the Bruins’ power play. Krejci in particular was a force, scoring eight points throughout the five-game series.
Boston’s power play was the second-best in the regular season, yet the Hurricanes allowed the Bruins 19 opportunities with which to work. They scored on five of those chances – and each of those goals either tied the game or gave Boston the lead.
Momentum is the key for head coach Rod Brind’Amour’s Hurricanes, but every time they’d string together a few good shifts and build energy, they’d stifle their own momentum by taking a pointless penalty.
Controversy stirred around the officiating earlier in the series – Brind’Amour was even slapped with a $25,000 fine for sounding off after his team’s Game 1 overtime loss. But regardless of the officiating, the Hurricanes didn’t play consistent or mature enough to earn a ticket to the second round.
Game 4 Collapse Was the Turning Point
It’s hard to come back from two goals down in the third period of a playoff game, but it’s even harder to come back two games down in a series. And in Game 4, already down 2-1 in the series, the Hurricanes completely unraveled under the desperate force of the Bruins.
Four straight Boston goals in the third period of Game 4 crushed the Hurricanes in what probably should have been a 2-2 tie of the series. Instead, the ‘Canes managed a measly two shots on goal while loafing around for 20 minutes, which allowed the Bruins to pounce and take a commanding 3-1 series lead.
As demoralizing as that loss was, the Hurricanes showed exceptional resilience by coming back with a scrappy, albeit losing, performance in Game 5. The bounces didn’t go their way, but they were able to leave with their heads held high.
Bruins Exposed Hurricanes’ Youth & Inexperience
When you look at the Hurricanes’ core, you think of Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, Teuvo Teravainen and Jaccob Slavin. Aho and Teravainen are locked up for four more seasons, and Slavin for five. Svechnikov will be in for a pay-day once his entry-level contract expires in 2021, but re-signing him is an absolute no-brainer.
It’s sometimes easy to forget how young this group is. Given how long this year has felt, Carolina’s 2019 Eastern Conference Final run seems so distant in the rear-view mirror. But the Hurricanes’ window is only just opening, and with a talented young core in place and Brind’Amour at the helm, their best and most competitive years lie ahead.
The Bruins are always a good bet to emerge from the Eastern Conference and make the Stanley Cup Final, like they did last year. Boston’s seasoned core of Bergeron, Marchand, Krejci and Chara have been together for nearly a decade. Every once in a while, younger guys like David Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy join the fold and help them to remain competitive.
The way the Hurricanes are being built slowly and methodically, this is only the beginning for them. And there’s no shame in losing to the NHL’s best regular-season team, and one of the most proven playoff threats this decade has seen.
Is This the Last of Justin Williams?
The Hurricanes got by without their former captain Justin Williams in the early parts of the 2019-20 season, but his return to the team in January breathed new life into an already tight-knit locker room.
By the time next season will be set to start, Williams will be 39 years old and sans contract. Considering how close he seemingly was to retiring in 2019, it may be possible this is the last we’ve seen of Williams on the ice.
That’s not to say he can’t remain with the organization in some capacity, however. Brind’Amour and Williams have been close friends ever since their days of playing and winning a Stanley Cup together. If there’s a coaching or management position open in the Hurricanes’ organization in the future, maybe Williams is a candidate. As great of a leader as he is, it’s hard to believe he won’t remain close to the organization, even if his playing days are over.
Viewing The 2019-20 Hurricanes in a Positive Scope
There’s an alternate reality where the Bruins don’t flounder in the round-robin and fall to the No. 4 seed. There’s an alternate reality where Svechnikov doesn’t get injured, or where James Reimer doesn’t go for that poke check on Jake DeBrusk in Game 4. But, the Hurricanes made the best of a strange and unusual season, and when they return for 2020-21, there are positives to build on.
Svechnikov and Aho have been continuously improving with every season they play. Aho’s 12 playoff points had him atop the leaderboard at the time of Carolina’s elimination, while Svechnikov was an intimidating physical presence and scoring threat – he even has the honor of recording the first hat trick in Hurricanes’ playoff history.
Other Hurricanes’ youngsters like Martin Necas and Haydn Fleury made major strides this season and are poised to become full-time contributors to the lineup in 2020-21.
The goaltending wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t a liability either. Both Reimer and Petr Mrazek battled every game and made timely saves to bail out the Hurricanes’ defensive lapses.
Related: Carolina Hurricanes Jersey History
With the Williams situation once again up in the air and several key defensemen approaching free agency, there could be big changes on the horizon. But for now, the Hurricanes will have to plan ahead for next season and getting even with the Bruins, as Boston advances to the second round.
Matt Cosman is a Sheridan College print journalism graduate from Oakville, Ontario. I’ve been with THW since 2019 covering the Carolina Hurricanes, one of my favorite childhood teams. When I’m not in my hockey bubble you can probably catch me jamming out on the piano or losing money at the poker tables.