The somber mood after Game 3 for the Carolina Hurricanes wasn’t just because they lost and fell behind 2-1 in the series against the Boston Bruins, but that they also lost one of their most important players and teammates in Andrei Svechnikov.
Down a goal late in the third period, the Hurricanes were pressing the attack when Svechnikov got tangled with Bruins captain Zdeno Chara in front of the net. His leg appeared to twist and contort around the knee and ankle area before he landed on it in an awkward and frightening fall.
Svechnikov stayed down on the ice clutching his knee until he got a whistle and was helped off the ice. He didn’t return.
Due to the NHL’s bubble rules, it’s unlikely there will be any clarification on what the injury is – and it might be a while before any timetable is given for his recovery – if recovery time is even needed. But if Svechnikov is unable to return this series, the Hurricanes will have to find a way to press on without their leading goalscorer.
Hurricanes’ Depth Can’t Stay Silent Anymore
The ‘Canes have had little scoring help outside of their big three of Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen and Svechnikov. That trio has scored a combined 21 points – one point fewer than the total of all other Hurricanes players. For the last two games, Svechnikov had been playing away from the Finns, as Brind’Amour searched for a more balanced lineup.
It seemed to work for Game 2, as the new second line of Svechnikov, Vincent Trocheck and Martin Necas had an excellent game. Necas in particular had his strongest game of the playoffs, scoring two assists by directly setting up the Hurricanes’ second goal by Svechnikov, and the game-winning clapper by Dougie Hamilton.
Trocheck has had moments of effectiveness, but has registered just one assist. Justin Williams, who was on a five-game goal-scoring streak to end the regular season, hasn’t created anything offensively, and captain Jordan Staal – who is also scoreless in these playoffs – has just one goal in his last 27 games.
It feels like the Hurricanes have been waiting for a breakout performance from Trocheck, the former 75-point scorer. When general manager Don Waddell acquired him from the Florida Panthers at the trade deadline, they hoped he could provide that secondary scoring, but he hasn’t quite found his groove yet.
In seven regular-season games, Trocheck collected just two points. And with Svechnikov falling to injury just as his line was catching steam, he’ll have to adapt to yet another new winger.
Niederreiter Still Has More to Offer
Swiss winger Nino Niederreiter feels like a guy the Hurricanes perpetually want more from. Apart from having a habit for taking lazy penalties at inopportune times, Niederreiter never seems like a liability nor an asset.
He goes through streaks where he’ll be a difference-maker – like when he was first acquired by the Hurricanes in January of 2019. In the final 36 games of the 2018-19 season, Niederreiter scored 30 points on the top line with Aho and Teravainen.
There are also times you forget he’s even in the lineup. The three-time 20-goal scorer should be a prime candidate to carry some of the load left by Svechnikov, just because of his finishing ability alone. But after being scratched in Game 2 in favor of Ryan Dzingel, it seems Brind’Amour is also struggling with how to utilize him.
If Brind’Amour elects to keep Niederreiter on the top line, production will be expected from him. Otherwise, he could soon find himself right back on the fourth line, where he won’t have linemates as offensively gifted, and his scoring potential gets wasted.
Dzingel Is the Secret Weapon
Watching these playoffs, the Hurricanes don’t seem to have many forwards who can handle a pass, let alone generate offensive-zone creativity, but Dzingel is one of those guys. And with Svechnikov’s status up in the air, Dzingel will be preparing to re-join the lineup.
The 28-year-old winger has only played two games in these playoffs – Games 1 and 2 against Boston. Although he hasn’t registered any points, he did provide a good amount of speed, energy, and puck skills. He was noticeably effective for a skill guy playing on a checking line.
The Hurricanes have a fleet of high-energy, physical players like Brock McGinn, Jordan Martinook, and Staal. What they need to balance their lineup is a player who can actually handle the puck and create scoring chances. That’s where Dzingel’s toolkit needs to be utilized more.
Dzingel scored 29 points in 64 games this season, in an injury-riddled year. But in 78 games in 2018-19, split between the Ottawa Senators and Columbus Blue Jackets, he registered a career-high 26 goals and 56 points.
He didn’t sign a $6.75-million contract with the Hurricanes over the summer to be a fourth-line crash-and-bash role player. In the possible absence of Svechnikov, Dzingel can be a direct replacement on the second line with Trocheck and Necas. Or, Brind’Amour can load up his top line with speed and skill, and run Dzingel-Aho-Teravainen.
The ‘Canes have a great player who’s not being used to his full potential right there in that locker room, and if they expect to beat the Bruins, they need to use Dzingel.
Hurricanes Must Persevere, With or Without Svechnikov
Losing Svechnikov – a big-impact player and cherished teammate – would be a massive blow to the Hurricanes. But there are no excuses in the playoffs, especially when the Bruins have been playing without David Pastrnak, the NHL’s leading goalscorer.
When Svechnikov was concussed in the infamous fight with Alex Ovechkin in last year’s playoffs, the Hurricanes responded with a 5-0 thrashing of the Washington Capitals. They rode that momentum to win five of their next six games until Svechnikov was able to return.
The Hurricanes are a group with a lot of camaraderie, and as unfortunate and depressing as the situation is, they have it within them to storm back in Game 4 Monday and tie the series – with or without their young star.