RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — There are plenty of things coach Rod Brind’Amour likes about how his Carolina Hurricanes have played to open the Eastern Conference Final.
Yet the Hurricanes are struggling with the sport’s most basic task: putting pucks in the net.
Carolina has managed just three goals in 103 shots on Florida’s Sergei Bobrovsky in falling into an 0-2 series hole. They next visit the Panthers for Monday’s Game 3.
“You have to be careful not to blow everything up and think it’s not working,” Brind’Amour said Sunday. “We’ll tweak things here and there. But we’ve come this far, we’re not going to be suddenly changing our game.”
The Hurricanes lost 3-2 in a series opener that went nearly four full overtimes and became the sixth-longest game in NHL history, then fell 2-1 minutes into overtime of Saturday’s Game 2. Along the way, Carolina has managed one goal through nearly 158 minutes since Stefan Noesen’s third-period goal in Game 1.
The lone Game 2 score came on Jalen Chatfield’s early deflection, then the Hurricanes played a full game’s length (60:08) without another. By comparison, Florida’s Matthew Tkachuk has found the net more often with consecutive walk-off goals.
Bobrovsky’s elite play is the biggest cause as he gloves easy-to-see shots from the point or makes lunging takeaways from a backdoor cutter. Now it’s up to Carolina to counter.
“It comes down to just whenever you have a chance, you want to have a quality shot and obviously it has to be a pretty good shot to beat him,” forward Martin Necas said.
The Hurricanes finished with the league’s second-best regular-season record behind an aggressive forecheck to win puck battles, maintain possession in the opponent’s end and generate scoring chances. They’ve been able to do that for stretches, notably with a strong third period in Game 1.
Carolina outshot Florida in each game and is at plus-17 in the series, even while converting just 2.9% of its shots into goals. And the Hurricanes have had their own chances at OT winners, from Seth Jarvis hitting the crossbar in the first overtime of Game 1 to Bobrovsky’s in-close stop on captain Jordan Staal early in OT during Game 2.
But close doesn’t count.
The Hurricanes have been outscored 4-1 at even strength. And this marks the first time in the playoffs when the absences of injured forwards Max Pacioretty — a trade acquisition to address an exposed scoring-depth weakness from past postseason stumbles — and Andrei Svechnikov have felt like a glaring obstacle.
If things continue like this in Sunrise, the Hurricanes’ second trip to the Eastern Conference Final in five years could be just as short as in a 2019 sweep by Boston.
“The effort has been there,” center Sebastian Aho said. “It’s not that, we worked our tails off, especially last night. I definitely felt we had enough to create more than one goal and kind of take the game over. … We just have to keep finding ways to score goals.”