TAMPA BAY, Fla. — The Hurricanes’ second-round series with the Lightning shifts to Tampa Bay for Thursday’s Game 3. Down 2-0 in the series, Carolina needs a win or otherwise will be facing elimination in Saturday’s matinee Game 4.
Here are some notes and thoughts ahead of Thursday’s matchup.
The Hurricanes have a big hole out of which to climb, and they’ll likely have to do it without Vincent Trocheck, at least for Game 3. Trocheck was injured in the second period of Game 2 and did not participate in the morning skate. Coach Rod Brind’Amour said Trocheck was doubtful for Thursday’s pivotal game.
“He may try it tonight at warmup, but we’ll see. … All I can tell you is he’s going to try and we’ll see,” Brind’Amour said.
Trocheck did make the trip with the team. I spotted him after the morning skate outside of the arena signing for some fans and, for whatever it’s worth, he wasn’t noticeably limping.
If he doesn’t play, it looks like the Hurricanes will have a significantly different look with the forward lines, based on the morning skate.
Andrei Svechnikov had rejoined Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen on the top line, while Jordan Staal was flanked by Warren Foegele and Martin Necas. Jordan Martinook moved back to the middle to center Brock McGinn and Jesper Fast, and Morgan Geekie is poised to play for the first time this postseason on Steven Lorentz’s line opposite Cedric Paquette.
The other big change was a coach’s decision: Petr Mrazek will get his first postseason start this year.
“I think Petr’s obviously been ready for a while, and we’ll give him a shot tonight,” Brind’Amour said. (Alex Nedeljkovic)’s been great. That’s not really the issue. I think he played a lot of games and we’re going to need everyone as fresh as possible to get a victory, and (we’ll) change it up a little bit.
Mrazek has a history of getting hot in the postseason, but since coming to Carolina he is just 2-7 with a 3.20 goals-against average and .880 save percentage in road playoff games.
His two wins, however, came at crucial moments in two 2019 series. He made 34 saves in the Hurricanes’ double-overtime win in Game 7 in Washington, eliminating the defending champions, and then followed that up with a 1-0 overtime win in Game 1 of the next series against the Islanders on Long Island.
In the regular season during his career, Mrazek is 3-11-3 with an .876 save percentage and 3.37 goals-against average against the Lightning. Two of those wins were shutouts, and he has a 2-3-1 record (2.34, .914) with Carolina against Tampa Bay.
In the postseason, he played the Lightning twice when he was with the Red Wings. He pushed Tampa Bay to seven games in 2015, posting two shutouts and allowing one goal in a 2-0 Game 7 loss. He played the final three games in a series against Tampa Bay in 2016, pitching a shutout in Game 3 and losing two tight games in the next two. The Lightning had three power play goals in a Game 4 win and then suffered a 1-0 loss in Game 5 on an Alex Killorn goal with 1:43 remaining in regulation.
With Mrazek starting, that means Alex Nedeljkovic will be the backup tonight. It wasn’t all bad news for the Carolina goaltender as he was named a finalist for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie on Thursday. Minnesota’s Kirill Kaprizov and Dallas’ Jason Robertson are the other finalists.
“We wouldn’t be where we are without him,” defenseman Jaccob Slavin said of Nedeljkovic.
Kaprizov is the clear frontrunner to become the first Wild player to win the honor. Two players in Carolina/Hartford history have been finalists for the Calder: Sylvain Turgeon with the Whalers in 1984 (finished third behind winner Tom Barrasso and second-place Steve Yzerman) and Jeff Skinner in 2011, the only player to win it for the franchise.
“I think it’s great. I think it’s deserved,” Brind’Amour added. “He had a great year for us, no question about it.”
Brind’Amour preached staying the course after his team lost Games 1 and 2 at home and fell behind 2-0 in the series. A bounce or two, a little luck, and this series would be in a different place, he said.
While we’ll have to wait until Thursday’s 8 p.m. puck drop to see if the bounces go the Hurricanes’ way, a little luck might already be on their side.
Tampa Bay defenseman David Savard was again a no-show for the morning skate at Amelie Arena. That wasn’t a complete surprise, but the absence of captain Steven Stamkos and defenseman Ryan McDonagh was.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper told the media after the morning skate that he anticipated the same lineup as Game 2 — meaning both Stamkos and McDonagh would be playing. But that’s still two big pieces for the Lightning who seem to be, at minimum, a bit nicked up.
Brind’Amour appeared to give an impassioned speech at the end of the morning skate, one that included “everyone’s counting us out.”
“Listen, gotta win a game,” Brind’Amour, who seemed to be borrowing Justin Williams’ frequent statement-opening “listen” ahead of a big game, said to the media. “It’s boring as ever to say, but that’s just what it is.”
While the coach shrugged off the idea of a rallying speech, he seems to be embracing an “us against the world” mentality ahead of Game 3.
It’s one Brind’Amour has thrived on in his career. The 2005-06 team he captained, you’ll remember, was expected to be a bottom-feeder. Instead, it drew upon its captain to be one of the most dominant teams coming out of the lockout. It then overcame a 2-0 series deficit to Montreal in the first round and won two Game 7s en route to the Hurricanes’ lone Stanley Cup.
The last two seasons ended with “you’re not quite there” losses to the Bruins in the playoffs, and this postseason threatens to be the same. That said, this team was different than the 2018-19 and 2019-20 versions, overachievers that maxed out and lost to a better opponent. The 2020-21 version, however, was a Presidents’ Trophy contender into the season’s final week and more resembles the 2006 team that won it all. And Brind’Amour seems to know how to push the right buttons when his team’s back is against the wall.
Game 3 will go a long way toward determining if this year’s Hurricanes are different or if they’re still not there yet.