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Will home ice be enough of an advantage for Canes against Bruins?

Hurricanes’ Justin Williams: ‘Shame on us for not being able to instill our game’

Carolina Hurricanes captain Justin Williams says the Canes need to win Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Bruins on May 14, 2019, put some pressure on the Bruins and see how they respond.
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Carolina Hurricanes captain Justin Williams says the Canes need to win Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Bruins on May 14, 2019, put some pressure on the Bruins and see how they respond.

For the Carolina Hurricanes, things need to change. Quickly.

The Eastern Conference finals shift to PNC Arena for the next two games, meaning the Canes will have home-ice advantage and the ability to make their lineup changes after the Boston Bruins. In theory, having the “last change” at home can create more favorable matchups for the home team.

Can that help the Canes after back-to-back losses to the Bruins? After a 5-2 beating in Game 1 and then Sunday’s 6-2 battering in Game 2, both in Boston, the Canes must find a way to create more offensive chances in Game 3 on Tuesday and better matchups could help.

But Canes captain Justin Williams more or less dismissed the “last change” advantage Monday.

“I don’t think it has anything to do with matchups, to be quite honest which is a shame, because you’ve got to have something to rest on,” Williams said. “But no, it has nothing to do with matchups. It has everything to do with how we play.

“Playoffs are all about putting pressure on the other team and seeing how they do with a little bit of pressure. So we have to get a win (Tuesday) night, first of all, and then push back a little bit and see how they respond. Just squeeze the other team a little bit. They’ve squeezed us twice. We need to do a little bit of punching back.”

The Canes played well at times in Game 1, taking a 2-1 lead into the third period at TD Garden. They did not play well, in any facet of the game, much of Sunday’s game in falling behind 2-0 in the best-of-seven series.

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Carolina Hurricanes’ Saku Maenalanen (8) moves the puck against Jake Bean (24) during practice on Monday, May 13, 2019 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

“It looked like we were really tired,” Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said Monday. “We’ve only played two games in 10 days but I think the mental fatigue got to us. There was a real strong push by our guys for four months and it felt like we didn’t have that extra gear you need at this time of year.”

That’s hard to fathom. The Canes are in the conference finals, eight wins away from the Stanley Cup. The Bruins seem enthusiastic enough about the situation, about the opportunity in front of them.

“We have to be way better and we all know that,” Canes forward Warren Foegele said Monday. “It’s the Eastern Conference finals and we haven’t played the way we’re capable of playing. And there’s no excuse for that.”

Playing in front of the home crowd should provide a jolt of energy for the Hurricanes. In the first-round series against the Washington Capitals, the Canes came home in a 2-0 hole and promptly won two games, urged on by rowdy sellout crowds at PNC Arena.

This series has a different feel to it because of how the Bruins have controlled play in the first two games, especially on special teams. And part of that has been the matchups.

In the opening game, Brind’Amour sent out the Jordan Staal line with Williams and Nino Niederreiter as part of his starting lineup. Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, with the last change at home, countered with his fourth line -- center Sean Kuraly and wingers Joakim Nordstrom and Chris Wagner. Staal called that a little surprising Monday while also conceding the Kuraly line has played well in both games.

The Staal line and Kuraly line started the third period in Game 1 and Staal quickly was called for boarding Wagner. The Bruins then scored on the power play and turned the game in their favor.

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Carolina Hurricanes captain Justin Williams (14) and his teammates work on the power play during practice on Monday, May 13, 2019 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

Cassidy continued to roll out the Kuraly line at times against the Staal line in Game 2 while Patrice Bergeron’s line, with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, with defensemen Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo, often was on the ice against Sebastian Aho’s line with Andrei Svechnikov and Teuvo Teravainen.

Whatever the matchups, it all worked for Boston. According to Natural Stat Trick, a hockey analytics web site, the Canes had just four “high danger” scoring chances in Game 2 while the Bruins had 17.

“We were late getting to our forecheck, which allowed (Boston) to make easy exits, which allowed them to get to their game,” Brind’Amour said. “Our battle level in our end was no good. They were just tapping pucks in around our goalie and that can’t happen. There was a lot of stuff, a lot of issues in that game.”

Brind’Amour changed up the lines during Sunday’s game and had some different looks Monday in practice -- Aho centering Niederreiter and Williams, Staal with Teravainen and Svechnikov. But Brind’Amour said not to read too much into those line combinations, indicating they might change come Tuesday and Game 3.

Nor did Brind’Amour commit to a starting goalie -- Petr Mrazek again, or Curtis McElhinney.

“We’re down 2-0 but it’s not because of goaltending,” he said.

The Canes’ goaltending, that is. Tuukka Rask has looked sharp in net throughout the playoffs for the Bruins.

“We need to play with our speed and be more aggressive,” Foegele said. “We have a bunch of fast skaters and we’re not executing that enough. We haven’t played the way we done all year. We weren’t fast, we weren’t relentless. When we’re relentless we’re hard to play against and we haven’t shown that yet.”

In more than 30 years at The N&O, Chip Alexander has covered the N.C. State, UNC, Duke and East Carolina beats, and now is in his 11th season on the Carolina Hurricanes beat. Alexander, who has won numerous writing awards at the state and national level, covered the Hurricanes’ move to North Carolina in 1997 and was a part of The N&O’s coverage of the Canes’ 2006 Stanley Cup run.
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