Category 5: Do-or-die Game 4 for Hurricanes

Hurricanes defenseman Brady Skjei takes Panthers forward Anthony Duclair off the puck during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals in Raleigh. (Karl B. DeBlaker / AP Photo)

SUNRISE, Fla. — The Hurricanes face elimination Wednesday when they play the Panthers in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals at FLA Live Arena at 8 p.m. Carolina trails 3-0 in the series, and all three losses have been one-goal defeats — the first two in overtime in Raleigh and Monday’s 1-0 loss in Game 3 in Sunrise.

The Hurricanes have now lost 11 straight Eastern Conference finals games dating back to 2009 and will look to snap that streak and avoid a sweep.

1. If you’re looking for cliches, talking to a team down 3-0 in a series is the place to find them. Take your pick: do-or-die; backs against the wall; nothing to lose. It’s right there, easily accessible for players and coaches.

“I wish I could give you guys something,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said when asked what the mindset is now that the team is down to its last opportunity. “How do you expect me to answer that, right?

“You have to play a game. Whether we were up three-nothing or down, it’d be the same preparation. You’re not going to try to change things. … Sometimes it’s easier when you’re at the end. You’ve got one way to do it, and if it doesn’t work, we don’t have a tomorrow. There’s no real pressure on it because we know it’s now or never, and let’s just throw it out there and see what happens.”

2. The Hurricanes’ main concern, as it has been for all of the Panthers’ opponents this postseason, is goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. He’s allowed three goals in the series — in 13 periods of play — and just one at 5-on-5.

“He’s been good. He’s been really, really good,” Hurricanes defenseman Brady Skjei said after Wednesday’s morning skate. “We’ve had our chances to score, just haven’t been able to capitalize. The more often we get pucks to the net, the more traffic we get, the better the chance we have to see one go in. So gotta do that tonight and put a few in the back on the net.”

In the 2021 playoffs, the Hurricanes were stymied by the Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy in Games 1 and 2 but won Game 3 in overtime in Tampa. That opened the floodgates a bit as Carolina scored four times in the first 33 minutes of Game 4. Unfortunately, the Hurricanes couldn’t get a save after that and lost 6-4.

The mindset will need to be similar in this Game 4 — find a way to get a win and hope you can smash through the mystique of Bobrovsky.

“We gotta score some goals or you’re not gonna win a game,” Brind’Amour said. “We’re doing all we can on the (defensive) side of things. It’s just you got to find a way to break through and then maybe, you know, get a little confidence going that way and who knows what can happen. But that’s obviously the game plan.”

3. Skjei had a golden opportunity in Game 3 to dent Bobrovsky, getting the puck at his favorite spot on the ice, the left circle, and ripping a shot far side high at the Florida net. He instead dented the iron as the puck hit the crossbar, an “of course” moment in a series of missed chances.

“I mean, I don’t know,” Skjei said when I asked if that moment encapsulated what Carolina has dealt with in the series. “He’s been playing really well. You gotta give him credit. He’s been playing really, really solid.

“But there’s been some opportunities that we just haven’t been able to capitalize on, so I think if we play the way we have — last game we played a really solid game, I thought, we just didn’t score. So if we play like that, I think we’ll be in a good spot.”

4. The Panthers have now won 10 of 11, easily their best stretch of the season. It matches what they did at the start of last year, a run that was capped with a 5-2 win over the Hurricanes that ended Carolina’s nine-win start to the season.

Florida also had a 13-game winning streak last season that ran through much of April. There’s no doubt the Panthers know how to get hot.

If you’re looking for the smallest glimmer of hope, Florida lost three of the last four regular season games last year after that 13-game winning streak, allowing 8, 4, 0 and 10 goals. Twenty-two goals in four games (three games, really) seems like a pipe dream against Bobrovsky, but Carolina doesn’t need quite that many to start winning.

5. Panthers forward Anthony Duclair suffered an Achilles injury in June of the offseason, about six weeks before Hurricanes forward Max Pacioretty did the same. Pacioretty returned to Carolina’s lineup on Jan. 5 but lasted just five games before going down with the same injury again.

Duclair, who returned on Feb. 24, was certainly aware of Pacioretty reinjuring his Achilles.

“I wouldn’t say (it gave me) pause, but I would say, obviously, cautious,” Duclair said after Wednesday’s morning skate. “You hate to see that happen, especially when I consider him a friend. We skated a couple of summers together when he was playing for Montreal, and I spend my offseasons there. But it’s tough to see.”

Duclair said he and Pacioretty kept in touch throughout their recoveries.

“He called me right after he tore it, actually, before his surgery,” Duclair said. “At that point, I was a couple weeks post-surgery and just let him know how it went and what to expect and stuff like that. Throughout the whole process we kept in contact. We were exchanging what we were doing and stuff like that. We kept in contact throughout the whole thing.”

Duclair said seeing both Pacioretty and Detroit’s Mark Pysyk suffer setbacks after the initial surgery really made him focus on following every detail of his rehab.

“Just seeing two guys go down again like that, it obviously opens your eyes up to just really take the rehab seriously — not that they weren’t — but just to make sure that you’re taking every step correctly.”

Duclair — with two goals and six assists in 14 playoff games this year — looks as fast as ever, proof that there is life for a hockey career after an Achilles tear.