Luke DeCock: Hurricanes turn what might’ve been quick series into slog. There’s no one else to blame | Hockey

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BOSTON — What could, and probably should, have been a comfortable first-round series for the Carolina Hurricanes has turned into a nightmare they can’t stop reliving.

For the second year in a row, they’ve taken a winnable series against an opponent they dominated and turned it into both a knife-edge precipice and a soul-sapping slog. Their inability to deal quickly with the Nashville Predators 13 months ago left them less battle-tested than weary when they went up against the mighty Tampa Bay Lightning, a series they would have had to be at their absolute best to win.

Here they are again doing the same thing, letting the Boston Bruins back into this first-round series and back into their heads, maybe more the latter than the former. By the time a totally-on-tilt Tony DeAngelo flung his stick at Brad Marchand’s empty-netter that made it a 5-2 win and an even series — he missed, the only penalty the Hurricanes avoided all night — the Hurricanes had guaranteed a return trip to this palace of pain for Game 6.

Less than 48 hours after the Hurricanes berated themselves for their utter lack of discipline and promised to be better, they actually managed to get worse. DeAngelo got most of the attention for his running scraps with Marchand and Curtis Lazar, but the undisciplined play was endemic and universal.

Vincent Trocheck gave the Bruins their first 5-on-3 by flipping the puck over the glass; Sebastian Aho gave the Bruins their second by high-sticking Patrice Bergeron right under his right eye. Those penalties were black-letter law. There’s no complaining about the officiating there.

“We got to stay out of the box,” Hurricanes captain Jordan Staal said. “It’s pretty obvious. We’ve got to do a better job of … staying out of the box.”

The Hurricanes compounded matters with a goaltender-interference challenge on Jake DeBrusk’s goal that made it 2-2, and while they certainly had grounds for complaint, there’s also the cost-benefit analysis of whether playing replay roulette is worth it when a loss would be the fifth straight penalty against your team. Which it was. Aho’s double-minor, shortly after Trocheck missed the net on a short-handed breakaway, was the sixth.

As righteously indignant as the Hurricanes want to be about it, Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour still challenged a borderline call at a time they absolutely, positively could not afford another penalty, and at a time when the score was still tied. Discretion and valor and all that.

In a series the Hurricanes continue to dominate five-on-five — and frankly, it’s not even close — their inability to keep their cool, their composure, and their sticks down has let the Bruins right back into it. Sunday, the Bruins were missing not only Hampus Lindholm — still out, after Andrei Svechnikov’s punishing hit Wednesday — but Charlie McAvoy, who entered COVID-19 protocols Sunday morning.

 

Imagine the Hurricanes without Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce, and the Bruins aren’t nearly as deep on the blue line behind them. Without their top two defenseman, the only way the Bruins could even compete was with a bushel of power plays.

Nine, including two two-man advantages, fit the bill nicely.

“Listen, you can’t give them — the rest of the penalties are real penalties,” Brind’Amour said. “We took too many. I don’t know what they ended up with, how many, it just felt like the whole game we were short-handed. Their top guys are elite as they come. You just can’t give them those looks.”

So the Hurricanes will go home having extended the series to at least six games in a firestorm of self-inflicted damage. A year ago, the energy expended early surely mattered. Their aspirations were even higher this season, although they’ll now have to be recalibrated in the short term to merely surviving this series first.

Postseason energy management doesn’t always make sense. In 2019, the Hurricanes emerged from a hard-fought seven-game series with the Washington Capitals to sweep the New York Islanders, who had swept the PIttsburgh Penguins in the first round, and the Hurricanes were then swept themselves by the Bruins.

Still, there’s no question this could have been over in four or five games if the Hurricanes had maintained the edge they had built at home. Surely, it’s harder to win on the road, and the Bruins have done a masterful job of picking their spots and their matchups, as evidenced by the Boston goal that made it 1-1, with Bergeron and Marchand taking advantage of Ian Cole and Brendan Smith and Carolina’s fourth line. But the gap between the teams after the first two games was big enough to overcome that.

“Just keep our heads up and we’re going to be fine,” Hurricanes forward Andrei Svechnikov said. “We’ve been in this situation. Obviously, it’s a little bit tough the last couple games, but it’s fine. We’re going to be fine.”

The Hurricanes, as much as the Bruins, turned this into a series. They’ll have to deal with that reckoning, not only Tuesday and Thursday and potentially in Game 7, but down the road should they fix their issues and advance.

©2022 The Charlotte Observer. Visit charlotteobserver.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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