By Peter Koutroumpis
RALEIGH, N.C. – Their exit from the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs was quicker than desired, but not surprising.
A 2-1 Game 5 loss to the Boston Bruins last Wednesday sent the Carolina Hurricanes home from the NHL bubble in Toronto.
Managing only one win against the Bruins, the 4-1 series loss to the same team that denied them an opportunity to move on to the Stanley Cup Final in a 4-0 sweep in 2019, provided the message going forward.
Skate fast, play hard, capitalize on your scoring chances, and play dirtier as needed.
Show how much you really want it.
With that said, there was no lack of all the above from Carolina’s play during Qualifying and Opening Round play.
All bets are off in the playoffs
The Hurricanes swept the New York Rangers in three games.
The accomplishment marked the second time in the team’s history (playing in North Carolina) that it has qualified for the playoffs in consecutive seasons.
Bravo, well done, even if the players initially balked at the concept of playing extra games to jump on the road to the Cup.
Blame the global pandemic for that.
At the same time, an additional grind to play three well contested games against a solid Rangers squad may have justified that initial concern.
Sure, they had a week off to rest and recuperate to be ready for Boston, but the additional wear-and-tear was there, and even if recovered, only superficially.
That New York series wore Carolina down and a matchup against the Bruins was the least ideal of any to start a Stanley Cup run.
Looking in the mirror
Though many teams play a similar style to the Hurricanes, Boston comes the closest to resembling what head coach Rod Brind’Amour emphasizes – playing four lines, executing a non-stop skating, quick passing, and puck-battling group to wear other teams down at both ends.
Both squads have scoring talent in their top-six, and role players in the rest of the lineup to contribute offensively as well as defend effectively.
As a by-product of such dynamic styles, goaltenders who are physically able to play in that system, are key.
Both teams had that as all four keepers put up acceptable performances for both sides.
It was always a game of inches against the Bruins.
The Hurricanes had them on the ropes at different stages in each game, but couldn’t deliver knockout punches, figuratively and literally to post wins more than once.
Instead, Boston bared its bloodied set of teeth, smiling, and then landed uppercuts and haymakers to get back into games they shouldn’t have.
Playing the right way
In his postgame remarks, made following the walk along the handshake line with Boston, Brind’Amour said he was proud of his team and they had learned a lot – they played the right way.
He said he ‘likes’ his team, meaning the current roster, for the most part has earned his trust in playing at the pace and tempo, and style he wants them to play at.
So now, the next step he needs to take is to reveal more of the same sandpaper attitude he had following Game 1 – as the bench boss who didn’t mince words in criticizing the league’s officiating at a $25,000 expense.
He went to a place that was purely an emotional one – totally understandable and allowed.
Did he lose his cool?
Yes, and that’s okay – he’s human.
He objected to wrongs he felt his team suffered, but it ended there.
An additional fine awaits him through next season if he publicly criticizes the league’s officiating again.
So, he’ll just have to go about it another way in 2020-2021.
A scratch of the surface shows what Carolina can become in coming seasons.
They’ll go along to get along, officiating will be what it is, but if they’re pissed and no one’s listening, they’ll have to make sure someone does.
And Brind’Amour doesn’t need to become an overwhelming, out-of-control coach to do so.
No, that would ruin the mindset and trust he’s built up with the hard-working, talented, maturing, and in-control roster of players that he currently has.
He’ll have to accept a few more roughing penalties, maybe even a few majors against his team.
It’s just the next step he will need to encourage his team to take to contend with trying circumstances and opponents during the regular season, and particularly in Stanley Cup postseason play.
They can handle it.
Most of the roster should remain intact with only slight adjustments needed due to injury and/or salary cap issues.
The emotional and physical capital that Brind’Amour has had the players invest and develop can’t be squandered.
The discussion that has to take place now is if they’re all willing to double-down and really exhibit all of the emotion – positive and negative – that has to be spent to show they’re worthy of winning the Stanley Cup.
Not just by doing it the right way, but by any, and all means necessary.
Peter Koutroumpis: 401-323-8960, @pksport