RALEIGH, N.C. – Down 2-0 in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference Final series against the Boston Bruins, the Carolina Hurricanes will need to return to their foundational principles of success in Game 3.
It’s easy to say that they must do everything correctly but lapses in one or multiple areas will make it that much harder to beat an equally hard-working and talented Bruins squad.
Aside from taking advantage of the energy generated from an expected record-sized crowd at PNC Arena on Tuesday, the Hurricanes’ five points (5 Ps ) for success include: possession, pace, physicality, positioning, and power play/penalty kill.
Winning faceoffs has led to much success for Carolina this season.
But getting beat off the draw by a 58-42 margin in Game 2’s 6-2 loss allowed Boston to control the game’s tempo.
A better job in winning 53% of faceoffs in Game 1 translated into increased offensive output through two periods in an eventual 5-2 loss.
Puck possession translates into control of game pace and tempo in all three zones – something that has lacked consistency for Carolina through the series’ first two games.
With possession, the Hurricanes can control game pace in terms of skating speed, passing in transition and in set offense, as well as being more efficient in puck retrieval situations.
Simply chasing the play and the puck exerts more energy, wastes shift time, and results in more fatigue throughout the lineup.
That also puts more pressure on netminders Petr Mrazek and/or Curtis McElhinney to overplay and tire themselves as well.
The Canes’ ability to play ‘their game’ at their pace also influences how physical they play on and off the puck.
This was a relevant factor in Game 2.
It goes without saying, but effective checking is a very significant factor for success to occur in Carolina’s game.
Every pass by a Bruins player must be followed by a finishing check whether on the forecheck, in the neutral zone, or in the defensive zone.
Timing of checks were late and finishing checks did not occur regularly enough in Game 2.
This allowed Boston to dictate the game’s pace accordingly.
Carolina must improve in this area by forcing the Bruins to constantly look over their shoulders before playing for pucks and/or making passes.
Effectively doing this will create more turnovers to capitalize on.
Gapping up on Boston’s breakouts, transition through the neutral zone, and zone entries will put Carolina in control to size up hits, turn pucks over and gain puck possession back to go the other way.
Dumping pucks into deep areas to set up for puck battles along the boards in the corner and below the goal line are a key element to offensive production for the Hurricanes.
Defensemen pinching below the blue line at the right time and in the proper spots will ensure more puck possession and movement for more shots on goal.
Establishing and maintaining position in the low slot for point-shot tip-in opportunities as well as rebounds will lead to increased scoring opportunities and goals.
Power Play/Penalty Kill
Lack of scoring on the power play speaks for itself and has hindered rather than helped Carolina during the first two games.
Pace of puck movement and ineffective positioning with the man-advantage has been the problem.
Boston has intercepted slower moving passes or skip passes while playing aggressively on man-down to force turnovers, including blocking point shots.
Finishing 1-for-3 in Game 1 and 0-for-4 in Game 2 with the man-advantage has denied the Hurricanes opportunities to take and or regain leads.
On the flipside, Carolina’s positioning and play on the penalty kill has been uncharacteristically ineffective as the Bruins have converted at a 4-of-7 completion rate.
Not challenging the puck at a quicker pace and stick-sweeping rather than making contact with a stick or body has allowed Boston to wait for the sweep, make the pass and put the puck in the net.
Contracting the box so small has also forced Mrazek to play deeper in his net and give up more room over his shoulders than when he can challenge shots further out in the paint at the top of his crease.
As a result, the Bruins have found it easy to score on the man-advantage and this has made a significant impact on them winning the first two games of the series.
Peter Koutroumpis: 401-323-8960, @pksport