BOSTON — While Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final didn’t go as planned for the Carolina Hurricanes, there are positives they can take away heading into Sunday’s Game 2 matinee at TD Garden.
The Hurricanes scored on the power play for the second straight game after going seven without one. The lineup was also close to full strength, with Micheal Ferland and Petr Mrazek returning.
There are still things to correct. Here’s a look at what Carolina needs to do to have success in Game 2 and beyond.
1. Stay out of the box
Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour and his players have been clear on this from the moment Game 1 ended: Taking five penalties against one of the NHL’s top power plays is not a recipe success.
“It always seems to come down to special teams,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said Saturday. “Generally, who wins special teams — I call it the special teams war — I think generally wins the game. It’s just the way it is. You go look in the regular season, it’s no different. Take a look at the stats at the end of the game. Whoever’s on the plus on special teams usually wins the game.”
2. Win the secondary scoring battle
The Hurricanes know they missed opportunities on Thursday, specifically chances to get goals from their second wave of offensive players.
“We go up 2-1 and we have two Grade-A chances immediately after,” Brind’Amour said. “(Defenseman Brett) Pesce hits the crossbar, (captain Justin) Williams comes right down the middle, rips one (off net), and then (Brock McGinn) on the shorthanded has an empty-netter on the tap and backside. … You score on those, it’s different.”
The Hurricanes still got a goal from fourth-line center Greg McKegg, but with Patrice Bergeron’s line capable of neutralizing a scoring line and the Bruins having the final change to get the matchups they want, Carolina needs scoring from unexpected places.
3. Get Dougie going
For whatever reason, Dougie Hamilton has been a flashpoint in both the Washington series and now the Eastern Conference Final. It makes a little more sense this time around, seeing that Hamilton was drafted by and played for the Bruins to start his career.
Still, opposing fans have taken it upon themselves to make the Carolina defenseman the focus of their ire. Nothing would extinguish that better than a big game from Hamilton. The power play units are a bit more balanced now with Williams and Nino Niederreiter joining Hamilton, Jaccob Slavin and Ferland on the second group, perhaps opening the door for more production from that fivesome.
Other than the 6-0 shutout loss in Washington in Game 5 of their first-round series, Carolina did not have its defense held without a point this postseason until Thursday’s loss in Boston. Whether it’s Hamilton, Slavin (second behind San Jose’s Brent Burns in points per game this postseason among still-playing defensemen at 0.92) or another of Carolina’s defenseman, the Hurricanes need and should expect more from the back end in the offensive zone.
4. Shoot your shot
The 38 even-strength shot attempts by the Hurricanes were their second-lowest total of the postseason and only the second time they allowed more shot attempts than they took (Game 4, Islanders 49-30).
I’d expect Carolina to throw more pucks at the net in Game 2 with the hopes of creating a little more chaos around Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask. The Hurricanes were held under 40 on their Corsi For just six times during the regular season and were held under 50 just 26 times in 82 games.
The Bruins only allowed 50 or more even-strength shots attempts 27 times during the regular season, but have given up 50-plus in eight of 14 playoff games. The Hurricanes should be able to generate more chances given that half of their 12 postseason games resulted in them taking 50 or more shot attempts.
5. Don’t chase the game
The Bruins are 8-2 this postseason when scoring first, as they did in Game 1, while Carolina is 4-0 when taking an early lead. The Hurricanes have proven to be resilient this postseason, rallying from several deficits (they’re 4-4 when allowing the first goal) and outscoring opponents 29-16 outside of a dreadful minus-7 (7 goals for, 14 goals against) in first periods in the playoffs.
The Bruins have bested opponents 14-6 in first-period scoring in the postseason, so Carolina would be advised to flip the script and make Boston play from behind early. Yes, the Bruins rallied and erased a third-period lead in Game 1, but the more the Hurricanes can set the tone early, the better chance they have of forcing Boston into mistakes and building a bigger cushion.