NHL: Hurricanes on brink of elimination

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 24, 2023

By Tim Reynolds

AP Sports Writer

SUNRISE, Fla. — Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour spent some time Tuesday shaking his head. The occasional shoulder shrug was thrown in there, too. He knows all the questions, and there are few answers.

Here’s what befuddles him right now: There isn’t much to fix regarding the way the Hurricanes are playing against the Florida Panthers. The offense is generating chances. The defense is giving up almost nothing.

And they’re down 3-0 to the Panthers in the Eastern Conference finals anyway.

The Panthers can wrap up their first trip to the Stanley Cup final in 27 years tonight when they host the Hurricanes in Game 4.

Florida goalie Sergei Bobrovsky has been almost immaculate, stopping 132 of 135 shots in the series — hence, Brind’Amour spending his days wondering what the Hurricanes have to do to get one past that guy.

“That is the toughest way to lose a game, when you come back in and it’s a play here or there that you didn’t make. That’s the whole difference in this series right now,” Brind’Amour said Tuesday. “It’s definitely frustrating. The key is, you can’t let it change your mindset. We’re not going to win four games tomorrow. We’ve got to try to win one.”

There have been 244 games this season — counting the playoffs — with teams combining to score at least nine goals. It’s not uncommon to have that many; roughly one in every 5 1/2 games this season has seen at least nine goals.

This series? Not so much. The Panthers and Hurricanes have combined in three games to score nine goals — total: Florida 6, Carolina 3. And that really should be four games, considering all the overtimes that the teams grinded through before Matthew Tkachuk gave the Panthers a middle-of-the-night gamewinner in Game 1.

“We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us,” Carolina’s Jaccob Slavin said. “There’s no beating around the bush there. But we’ve got a lot of belief in our locker room, and we’ve just got to break through.”

Panthers coach Paul Maurice freely acknowledges that he’s no goaltending genius. He says hello to his goalies and that’s about it, other than trying to read some body language from time to time. But he had this highly technical assessment of Bobrovsky right now, after going 10-1 in his last 11 games. The run started with Florida rallying from down 3-1 in Round 1 against a Boston team that was coming off posting the NHL’s best regular season record ever.

“Really, really good,” Maurice said.

That about sums it up. If Bobrovsky is really, really good again, the Panthers are likely headed to the Stanley Cup final — another step in the turnaround of a franchise that has transformed itself in the last few years from perennial doormat to built-to-last contender.