Through two periods, it looked like the Carolina Hurricanes were going to even their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series with the Boston Bruins.
Game 4, as it turns out, included a third period. And the Hurricanes didn’t show up for it.
Down two goals with under 13 minutes left, the Bruins scored four straight en route to a 4-3 win and a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
“It’s not even the score, it’s how we played that period that’s really disturbing for me,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “And I gotta have my guys better ready to go in the third for such a crucial game in our season, and I didn’t.”
The Hurricanes were outshot 16-2 in the final period, with both shots and a goal coming with the extra attacker on the ice after Carolina had already unraveled.
The collapse started with a mental mistake in the Carolina net with the Hurricanes up 2-0.
Much like Bruins goalie Jaroslav Halak gave Carolina hope in Game 3 by passing the puck directly to the Hurricanes’ Nino Niederreiter for an easy goal, Reimer gave the Bruins a boost by misplaying a puck.
Reimer dashed out to the top of the circles and dove to sweep the puck away, but a charging Jake DeBrusk beat him to it and chipped the puck in at 7:26 for the Bruins’ first true 5-on-5 goal since overtime of Game 1.
The Hurricanes — unlike the Bruins on Saturday — didn’t recover.
First, Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy knocked Hurricanes captain Jordan Staal out of the game with a thunderous hit. Then Staal’s former Hurricanes linemate Joakim Nordstrom set up a one-timer for Connor Clifton that tied the game 2-2 at 10:10.
Justin Williams turned the puck over at the Bruins blue line and defenseman Torey Krug angled a pass off the board to send Brad Marchand on a breakaway.
Marchand deked and slid the puck under Reimer (29 saves) to give Boston its first lead at 11:40 of the third.
“You have to take ownership of it, and I certainly have to take ownership of that third goal,” Williams said. “Being in the league as long as I have, you can’t turn the puck over at that juncture.”
The Bruins then scored what proved to be the game-winner, with a Boston forecheck forcing a turnover that led to Ondrej Kase setting up DeBrusk in front alone for his second goal and a 4-2 lead at 14:17.
That made it four Bruins goals in just 6:51.
Teuvo Teravainen scored at 18:33 with Reimer on the bench for an extra skater — Carolina’s first shot of the third period — but the Hurricanes couldn’t get a second to tie the game.
“The lack of push back that we needed is something that I haven’t seen out of this group,” Brind’Amour said of the demoralizing third period. “So I’ll take the heat for that. I needed to have my guys better prepared for that third period that was coming. I’ll learn as well.”
While the Hurricanes lamented their abysmal finish, the start wasn’t much better. Carolina didn’t get its first shot on goal until nearly the midway point of the first period, but they still managed to score first to take the lead.
Williams dug the puck out of the corner in the Boston end and passed it to defenseman Jake Gardiner. Gardiner gave it back, and Williams moved the top of the left circle and wristed a shot through traffic that beat Jaroslav Halak (16 saves) on the glove side to make it 1-0 at 9:17 of the opening period.
Carolina pushed the lead to two just past the midway point of regulation — but not without some adversity first.
With Teravainen in the box for hooking, Boston’s power play spent the entire man advantage in the Hurricanes zone. Carolina’s penalty killers — Jordan Staal, Brock McGinn, Jaccob Slavin and Dougie Hamilton — survived a 135-second shift and got the bench, and their teammates rewarded them.
The Hurricanes finally got a line change and, after a missed shot by the Bruins, headed up ice with speed. Sebastian Aho passed to Jordan Martinook on the left wing, and Martinook’s shot beat Halak again to the glove side at 12:08 of the second period for a 2-0 lead.
It was a lead they couldn’t hold, and now the Hurricanes are one loss away from an end to a bizarre 2019-20 season.
“All you say is they have to win four,” Williams said. “And right now, we don’t have any leeway. We don’t have the fallback option. So we gotta go, go, go. And your backs are up against the wall, that’s when you learn what you’re all about.
“So we’ve got to raise to it and it’s obviously going to be tough. But it ain’t over yet, and we’re going to give it our best.”