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For first time, Brind’Amour worried about Hurricanes’ mental state

Rod Brind’Amour following loss to Bruins: ‘We gotta regroup and that’s all you can do’

Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour talks with the media following the Hurricanes' 6-2 loss
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Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour talks with the media following the Hurricanes' 6-2 loss

For perhaps the first time in these playoffs, Rod Brind’Amour is worried. Not about being behind 2-0 to the Boston Bruins; the Carolina Hurricanes coach is merely unhappy about that.

But Sunday’s 6-2 loss in Boston was so out of character, such a departure from the hockey his team has played throughout the playoffs, that Brind’Amour on Monday openly wondered if the Hurricanes are out of gas, mentally speaking, heading into Game 3 at home on Tuesday.

“The whole thing was not what I’ve seen all year out of our group,” Brind’Amour said. “Why that would happen, I don’t have the answer to that. It looked like we were really tired. We’ve only played two games in 10 days, but I think the mental fatigue got to us. It’s been a real strong push from our guys for about four months, and it felt like we didn’t have the extra gear you need this time of year.”

The Hurricanes have indeed been pressing since January, when they were among several teams mired at the bottom of the Metropolitan Division standings and were on what is essentially must-win alert since then just to get into the playoffs, let alone advance through two rounds.

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.

Unlike 2009, when the Hurricanes reached the Eastern Conference finals with Brind’Amour as their captain and were dead in the water after playing two incredibly emotional seven-game series, leading to an easy sweep by the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Hurricanes cruised through the second round with a sweep of the New York Islanders.

But they looked the same Sunday as they did at this point in 2009.

“I’m shocked we got this far without having that,” Brind’Amour said. “From January 1 we’ve been in playoff mode. We’ve had to grind these guys. There’s only so many times we can go to the well, where they don’t respond. It happened the other night. I think there’s enough pride in the room to dig in a little more.”

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.

DIFFERENT DEFICIT Obvious comparisons were drawn Monday between the Hurricanes’ 2-0 deficit to the Bruins and the 2-0 deficit the Hurricanes faced in the first round after losing the first two games at the Washington Capitals, but players and coaches alike acknowledged the deficit is about all the two situations have in common.

“It’s nice that we’ve been through it and have come out on the other side,” Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk said. “It’s a little different. We haven’t touched our game in these two games, and that’s quite a bit different than the Washington series. So we know we got a lot of work to do. We’ve got to dig in and grind.”

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Boston’s Patrice Bergeron (37) checks Carolina Hurricanes’ Justin Faulk (27) to the ice in the first period of Game 2 in the Eastern Conference finals on Sunday, May 12, 2019 at TD Garden in Boston, Mass. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

The Hurricanes dominated the Capitals five-on-five in those two games in Washington only to be undone by the Capitals’ power play and an overtime goal in Game 2. The Hurricanes were competitive in Game 1 against Boston – two late Bruins goals flattered the scoreline in a 5-2 loss – but not in the least in Game 2.

Against Washington, the Hurricanes made almost no adjustments coming home and reeled off two resounding wins. That won’t get the job done this time around.

“It’s totally different the way this has gone,” Brind’Amour said. “We didn’t play a bad game to be down 2-0 in the Washington series. We did play a bad game (in this one). Little bit different feel.”

GOALIE DECISION Petr Mrazek, who was openly apologetic after the game for the first goal allowed Sunday, said he watched the clips of Game 2 with goalie coach Mike Bales and moved on quickly.

“Just flushed it,” Mrazek said. “Watched a few clips, talked with Mike a bit.”

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Carolina Hurricanes goalie Petr Mrazek (34) skates with teammates during practice on Monday, May 13, 2019 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

Brind’Amour wouldn’t say Monday whether Mrazek or McElhinney would start Game 3, although he hinted a decision already had been made. McElhinney won three straight games in relief of the injured Mrazek in the sweep of the Islanders, but the Hurricanes went back to Mrazek against the Bruins.

“Pete’s kind of been the guy in the playoffs here and deservedly so,” McElhinney said. “He played great down the stretch and got us into this place. He was great in the first round and he’s coming back right now. Tough couple games. But we have faith in him.”

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Sports columnist Luke DeCock has covered the Summer Olympics, the Final Four, the Super Bowl and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup. He joined The News & Observer in 2000 to cover the Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a columnist in 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and has won multiple national and state awards for his columns and feature writing while twice being named North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year.
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