Hurricanes captain Jordan Staal held back tears as he addressed the media after Carolina’s 6-2 loss to the Rangers in Game 7 of the second round on Monday.
He knew it, you knew it, we all knew it: The Canes had to be much better if they were to advance to the Eastern Conference final.
“Did we want to get to a Game 7? No, ”he said. “We had a great start to the series, but we’ve got to find a way to steal one on the road, which we didn’t. Tonight there were some bounces, and everyone wasn’t quite there, including myself. ”
This time, there were no compelling bounces to hide behind. The Canes allowed two power-play goals in the first eight minutes of the game, and even though they contained the Rangers well enough after that in the first period, the containment is just not good enough this time of year. Overall, nothing they tried for the remaining 52 minutes inspired a true comeback effort.
“We were chasing it again,” Staal said. “And chasing it is not easy.”
Carolina’s playoff run was oddly tough to watch. It was something about having to rally in games, the whiplash of the 7-1 home record and a winless road record and the expectations placed on the Hurricanes during their fourth consecutive crack at the postseason.
“Every year when it ends is always tough. It’s tougher maybe because I felt like we were in a different spot this year, “head coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “It wasn’t that we were better than everybody, but I felt like we weren’t worse. We were right there. That makes it maybe a little tougher. It’s another chance, I don’t want to say lost, but it’s another year where you don’t get that chance. “
If the Canes had won, they would have become the first team in NHL history to win multiple best-of-seven series in a single postseason with zero road wins. There’s a reason that has never happened.
You cannot tempt fate too much in the Stanley Cup playoffs. And as the Hurricanes’ season ended one game short of the Eastern Conference final, via their first home loss of the postseason, you knew the Hockey Gods had been watching Carolina’s 14-game playoff run the whole time.
They were watching on the road, where the Canes went 0-6 with at least two losses that made you question everything you thought you’d known about the team that won the Metropolitan Division.
The Gods were watching the special-teams battles, most notably the silly penalties taken and the squandered power-play opportunities. The Canes went 7-for-54 (13 percent) on the man advantage. It wasn’t close to good enough, and they knew it.
“On the power play, five-on-five, whatever it is, we’ve got to be able to put pucks in the back of the net,” Jaccob Slavin said. “To get past this at this point and get over the hump, when you look back at all the years, I think special teams is what it’s always coming down to. We lost the special battle teams. ”
The power play Monday was particularly demoralizing. Vincent Trocheck deflected a Tony DeAngelo point shot in garbage time, but the Canes’ umbrella system felt telegraphed when it actually counted – a few passes, then a shot directly into a defenseman’s chest. Rinse, repeat.
As Brind’Amour often says, it isn’t about the effort, and the effort isn’t to blame for the Game 7 loss. But Brind’Amour finally said the quiet part out loud Monday.
“I always think the (team is) good – it’s just, do we have elite goal scorers?” he said. “Maybe not. But we have great players. We’re built a little differently than some teams. You’ve got to play to your strengths. I think we did that, but it just didn’t work out. Going into tonight, there were five teams left playing. That says something. We’ve got to come back next year and be better. “
The Canes needed more creativity on the power play – the kind of creativity only elite goal scorers possess. They could’ve used some of that at even strength, too. Teuvo Teravainen was quietly keeping the offense afloat, with 11 points in 14 games. The Canes needed more from their goal scorers, and they ended with only 13 goals through seven games against the Rangers.
“It wasn’t a lack of offense,” Brind’Amour said. “It was a lack of scoring, but usually it’s a lack of scoring because you don’t get chances or opportunities. That’s really not what this was. You have to work hard to get your chances, and I think we did that. I don’t think we gave up a tone. ”
Andrei Svechnikov had four goals and five points in 14 games, zero points in Game 7 and only one point in his past eight games. Sebastian Aho ended with four goals and 11 points in 14 games, and he had zero goals in Game 7 and zero goals in his last five games. Martin Necas ended with zero goals and five points in 14 games. After a solid start in the first round, DeAngelo had zero goals and two assists in his last nine games.
The Hockey Gods finally had enough. They rewarded Igor Shesterkin for his consistently fantastic play, and they awarded the Hurricanes the first Game 7 loss in franchise history for their inconsistency.
04.30 Top photo of Sebastian Aho: Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images