Based on the game plan, anyway, the Carolina Hurricanes have scratched and clawed their way through the Eastern Conference finals just as they had planned.
What has not met their expectations is the scoreboard.
The Hurricanes must claim a victory in Wednesday’s road clash with the Florida Panthers to avoid being swept in the series and keep their Stanley Cup Final hopes alive.
Despite an impressive defensive showing, while generating all kinds of offensive opportunities, the Hurricanes trail the best-of-seven series 3-0 after dropping the first two games in overtime and losing 1-0 in Game 3 on Monday.
Not only must the Hurricanes find a way to beat goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and the Panthers, but they must overcome any wavering confidence.
“The games have been close. Could have gone either way,” Hurricanes forward Teuvo Teravainen said. “It’s frustrating.”
The Hurricanes have fired 135 shots on goal over the series but only scored three times. Monday’s defeat may actually have been their best performance, when they dominated the first half of the second period and all of the final frame, but they couldn’t find the equalizer let alone a winning goal.
At this point, the hope is one goal will open the floodgates and cue a series comeback.
“If we start with one win here and we continue to play like that, we’re going to get a bounce and we’ll move on from there,” Hurricanes captain Jordan Staal said. “We’ll take another (shot) at it and take Game 4 and go from there.”
The Hurricanes are on the verge of being swept in a third consecutive trip to the conference final, counting visits in 2019 and 2009.
“Any team still playing has gone through some adversities,” Hurricanes forward Sebastian Aho said. “We’re no different. Obviously, you have to get through a lot to get to this point, but we’re a confident team. This series is not over.”
While the Hurricanes can talk about being confident, the Panthers have proven it on their end.
Florida, which nabbed the final wild-card playoff spot by a single point, is on the verge of dispatching three of the top four Eastern Conference seeds, having defeated the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs en route to facing the Metropolitan Division champions.
The Panthers are one win away from advancing to the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in franchise history and first since 1996, although the players are trying to avoid such talk.
“In a game, you play just the moment,” Bobrovsky said. “There is no future, no past. You’re just right here, right now. You see what’s going on, you know what’s happening, and you react accordingly. That’s pretty simple.”
Of course, it helps to have a goaltender at the top of his game. Bobrovsky’s 132 saves through the series so far is the most recorded by a goalie in NHL history in the first three games of a conference final or semifinal. The previous record was 125.
“It’s really incredible to see,” Panthers forward Sam Bennett said. “It gives our team that much more confidence and that much more belief. Even if they have a big push, we know we’ve got a guy back there that’s going to fight and do whatever it takes. It’s a lot of fun playing when you have a goalie playing like that.”
The biggest question for the Panthers is the status of captain Aleksander Barkov, who came away with a lower-body injury in the first period of Monday’s victory and did not return.
“We’ll have a better idea after we see him today where he’s at, but I would say I’m more on the optimistic side right now,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said Tuesday.
–Field Level Media
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