Special-teams failures sweep away the Hurricanes in NHL Eastern Conference Final

Carolina’s season ends with four straight losses at hands of Boston Bruins

Peter Koutroumpis, Triangle Sports Network

R.L. Bynum, Correspondent


RALEIGH, N.C. — A special season for the Carolina Hurricanes ended short of their goal because their special teams were anything but special.

The Canes managed to overcome that weakness in the first two rounds.

But getting in the penalty box against the Boston Bruins was like deciding to play in traffic.

The scars kept coming all series before finally killing Carolina’s playoff run with a sweep.

It took 18 seconds for Boston to score its first power-play goal and 34 seconds to notch a second one, both in the second period, to push the Bruins to a 4-0 victory Thursday.

Boston finished off Carolina 4-0 in the Eastern Conference finals and earn a trip to the Stanley Cup finals.

“It’s tough when you lose the special-teams battle every single night against these guys,” said Justin Williams, still wearing all of his equipment except for his sweater.

“Boston played great. They didn’t give us much. They’re going to be tough to beat in the Cup finals.”

Boston finished the series 7-for-15 on the power play.

The Canes went 1-for-14 on the power play in the series and 5-for-52 for the playoffs.

While the Canes went 0-for-2 on the power play Thursday, the Bruins had as many quality scoring chances as the Canes during those power plays.

“In the end, I think our special teams kind of killed us,” said Jordan Staal, who is on the power-play and penalty-kill units, and was on the ice for both of Boston’s second-period goals.

“I’m on both of them so I had to be better and a lot of guys had to be better in that regard.”

Boston’s best skaters were its top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, and those three were unrelenting, combining for eight points in the game.

But its best player was goalie Tuukka Rask, who earned his second shutout of the playoffs with 24 saves.

“I think you gotta give them tons of credit, that’s where it starts,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said.

“They are a great team. We knew that. I actually thought the game went pretty good at the start, and then we get a power play and it sucks the life out of us. Everything is going OK and then we get into that specialty area where that is obviously a huge advantage to them, and they made us pay.”

The Hurricanes main hope appeared to revolve around goalie Curtis McElhinney shutting out Boston and somehow slipping a goal past the red-hot Rask.

For a period, McElhinney seemed up for the task.

Deft saves came from all angles and he showed some nice glovework.

It’s just tough to hold off the Bruins’ offense.

Nobody, including McElhinney, had an answer for why the Canes’ special teams were so bad.

“Outside of a smart-ass answer, they scored, and we didn’t, it’s tough,” said McElhinney, who started the last two games of the series and stopped 119 of 128 shots in the playoffs.

“If anything, you just tip your cap to Boston and say it’s a great group over there. They have a phenomenal power play with a huge top line and then some nice shifty guys on the back end that can make some things happen. And then their penalty kill. Rask was great in a lot of those penalty kills as well in the first three games.”

Even without defenseman Zdeno Chara, Boston made it difficult to generate any offense.

“They did a kind of good job of keeping us from getting good dumps,” Staal said.

“We were pretty stubborn and turning the puck over too much and trying to make plays in front of them, which is what they feed off of, and I was definitely one of them.”

A too-many-men penalty to the Hurricanes led to Boston’s first power-play goal.

Pastrnak took a centering pass from Marchand and slipped the puck by McElhinney, who was caught thinking Pastrnak would shoot.

That was only 18 seconds into the power play and 4:46 into the second period.

A questionable goalie-interference penalty on Greg McKegg late in the period allowed the gut-punch.

Pastrnak set up Bergeron 34 seconds into that power play and it was 2-0 with 1:26 left in the second period.

“Here’s what happens: Teams like this are so talented, when you make a little error, it goes in your net,” Brind’Amour said.

“So, we make a bad read on the first one and 90 percent of the teams don’t make those passes. That’s the thing. When you make unfortunate bounces, great teams go ‘thank you,’ and it’s in the back of your net.”

The second period truly meant the end to Carolina’s season.

Carolina had 13 shots in the first period and only 11 combined in the other two periods.

While Boston got two power-play goals in the period, the Canes went 14 minutes without a shot and ended up with only four shots.

Then it took nearly 10 third-period minutes for them to get a shot on goal.

By that time, Carolina — which led for 13 minutes, 8 seconds out of a possible 240 series minutes — had no shot.

“We just didn’t pump enough pucks on net tonight,” Carolina defenseman Jaccob Slavin said.

Bergeron ended what already was fleeting hope with a goal with 9:28 left.

Typical of the Canes’ luck in the series, Slavin was trying to clear the puck and it went off Bergeron’s skate to Pastrnak, who had the assist.

Marchand added an empty-net goal.

The season-ending injury to defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk took its toll on the Carolina blue line.

Brind’Amour only gave Haydn Fleury limited playing time (nine shifts and 6:27) and basically rotated five defensemen all night.

Slavin took 30 shifts and Justin Faulk 32.

Nothing really worked against Boston, but a lot worked over the course of a magical season for Carolina.

“I’m proud of what we’ve done,” said Williams, who got stopped by Rask on a point-blank second-period shot.

“I’m proud that we’ve gotten ourselves relevant again. I’m proud that we raised the bar in this organization. I’m proud of every one of my teammates.”

The pain of the series sweep may linger, but the pride of what the team accomplished will remain.

Even for a guy who made three runs to the Stanley Cup.

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