Hurricanes’ first priority: Salvage something, anything from this series

Canes’ Williams, Staal remain positive down 3-0

Justin Williams and Jordan Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes address media on May 15, 2019, a day before Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals. Trailing the Boston Bruins 3-0 in the series, the Canes players remain hopeful of a comeback.
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Justin Williams and Jordan Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes address media on May 15, 2019, a day before Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals. Trailing the Boston Bruins 3-0 in the series, the Canes players remain hopeful of a comeback.

Wherever the Carolina Hurricanes are headed, whether it’s into the yawning void of the offseason or back to Boston, their mission Thursday is simple. They must salvage something from this series. The sweepers of the sweepers must avoid being swept.

Even if the odds against the Hurricanes are staggering – four teams in NHL history have come back from 3-0 deficits, although Justin Williams played on one of them – there is still something to be gained from extending this series, however temporarily.

One win keeps the door to the improbable open and would teach a young team a valuable lesson about persistence, especially after Tuesday’s furious opening charge came to naught. A loss will dampen the excitement of this playoff run, although perhaps only temporarily. Posterity records that the Hurricanes were swept by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the conference finals in 2009, but all anyone talks about now is getting there.

Watch a time-lapse as Carolina's Justin Faulk delivers a hard hit on Boston's Joakim Nordstrom during the Hurricanes' game against the Boston Bruins at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. Tuesday, May 14, 2019.

“We’re just trying to win one game, that’s all it is,” Williams said. “I can’t sugarcoat it. This isn’t an ideal situation.”

The journey this team has taken over the past four months and change feels destined to last longer than this, but the Bruins care not about that, and have visions of a break themselves ahead of the Stanley Cup finals, just as the Hurricanes had one before this series after sweeping the New York Islanders, just as the Islanders had one before the second round after sweeping the Penguins.

Maybe the Bruins ought to reconsider.

Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask are already resting, given the day off Wednesday, and there’s no question the goalie has earned it. The Hurricanes’ inability to figure him out – never mind all the open nets they missed Tuesday – has at least one obvious parallel in franchise history.

Check out photos from game 3 of the playoff series between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Boston Bruins Tuesday night, May 14, 2019 in Raleigh, NC.

Rask’s impenetrability recalls Jose Theodore in 2002, when the Hurricanes spent the first three and two-thirds games of that series against the Montreal Canadiens banging their heads against the wall until they broke through in the Miracle at Molson. Theodore was never the same after that, in the series or in his career.

The Hurricanes at least squeaked out one win against Theodore early in that series, and were only down 2-1 instead of 3-0, but it’ll take something Miracle at Molson-esque to unravel Rask and turn this series around. But that crazy night in Montreal, and the blowouts that followed to close out the series, is as much proof strange things can happen as Justin Williams’ comeback from 3-0 down with the Los Angeles Kings in 2014. If anything, Theodore was flying higher than Rask is now, on his way to the Hart and Vezina trophies, arguably the best player in the game until everything fell apart in 23 minutes.

Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour confers with assistant coach Jeff Daniels during the first period of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday, May 14, 2019 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. Robert Willett

Even in the absence of the miraculous, one or two wins can go a long way. The Hurricanes were down 3-0 to the New Jersey Devils in 2001, long before this building had any kind of a reputation. They caught the Devils napping in Game 4, picked up a road win in Game 5 and came home for an end-of-game standing ovation that set the tone for everything that followed over the next five years.

Which is a long way to say, something good can come even of a loss Thursday, especially for a team this young that would be positioned well to springboard into the future. But similar postulations were made in 2002 and 2006 and 2009 to varying degrees – more about the win-now ability of more veteran rosters – and all three of those teams were at home this time a year later.

Better to live in the moment and try to salvage something of this. One win may or may not lead to another, and another, and another, but the Hurricanes, having come this far, owe it to themselves to go out on a better note than this.

Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour reviews the 2-1 playoff loss to the Boston Bruins in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals while also looking ahead to Game 4 at PNC Arena. The Canes must win May 16, 2019 to extend their season.

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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.