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Is a comeback against the Bruins too hard for the Canes?

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.

Justin Williams said it way back when, before the Carolina Hurricanes began the Stanley Cup playoffs.

At some point in every playoff series, the Hurricanes captain noted, “Somebody’s going to give and say it’s too hard.”

The Canes didn’t do that in their first series against the Washington Capitals. After a 6-0 beating in Game 5, trailing 3-2 in the series, the Canes returned home to win Game 6 and then won a double-overtime thriller on Brock McGinn’s goal in Game 7.

Against the New York Islanders, it was the Islanders who finally found it too hard. The Canes swept the second-round series.

But what now? The Canes have lost the first three games of the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Bruins. Are they at that breaking point, ready to concede the Bruins are too good and winning four straight games too hard?

If so, the Canes aren’t admitting to it. Not Wednesday. Williams, Jordan Staal, Jaccob Slavin and Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour all tried to say the right things, being realistic while also expressing a degree of hope going into Game 4 against the Bruins on Thursday at PNC Arena.

“They’re trying to push us out,” Williams said. “They’re trying to make us think it’s going to be way too hard to come back and win four games, but we’re not even looking at that. We’re just looking to win one game and go from there. I can’t sugarcoat anything. This isn’t an ideal situation.”

The Canes have invested a lot emotionally and physically in reaching the playoffs and then the conference finals. But Slavin used an old Yogi Berra favorite -- “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over” -- and Williams, with a smile, brought up a Brind’Amour analogy of always being able to squeeze just a little more toothpaste out of the tube.

“We’ve been hit three times now and it takes four to knock us down,” Williams said. “We’re going to just keep showing up and see what happens. We’d obviously rather not be down 3-0 but with being down 3-0 creates opportunity for yourself. That’s the way you have to look at it.”

Here’s another way: only four teams in NHL history have recovered from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series but two of those comebacks were in the past 10 seasons -- the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010 and the Los Angeles Kings in 2014. And the Kings, who rallied past the San Jose Sharks in their opening-round series, would later win the Cup as Williams was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs MVP.

“You have to instill a little bit of doubt,” Williams said. “That’s the first step you have to do, but you have to do that by winning a game and we haven’t done that yet.”

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.

The Canes put everything they had into Game 3 on Tuesday, only to have Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask be the game’s first star in a 2-1 Boston win that did nothing to create any doubt for the Bruins. Rask stopped 20 shots in the first period and 35 in the game, allowing only a second-period goal to defenseman Calvin de Haan.

As Brind’Amour put it, “He’s dialed in.”

Rask did catch a break when he fell in the crease on the first shift of the game, allowing the Canes’ Teuvo Teravainen a look at an open net. But Teravainen couldn’t bury the shot -- a misfire that still had Brind’Amour shaking his head Wednesday.

“You score there, 20 seconds into the game ... this place was already crazy (and) that would have been something,” he said. “It’s funny. ‘Turbo’ practices that 20 minutes a day his whole life and doesn’t miss those. It’s just one of those things that happens.”

The Canes’ approach for Game 4 will be the same: take dead aim at Rask and try to crack him. Win a game, then move on.

RAL_CANESBOS14-051419-EDH.JPG
Boston’s Tuukka Rask (40) stops the shot by Carolina’s Jordan Staal (11) during the third period of the Boston Bruins’ 2-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes in game three of the Eastern Conference finals at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. Tuesday, May 14, 2019. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

Former Canes goalie Michael Leighton was a part of the Flyers’ comeback in the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals -- against the Bruins -- and the Flyers were coached by Peter Laviolette, who had guided the Canes to the 2006 Stanley Cup.

“Obviously you’ve got to believe you can do it, first,” Leighton said in an interview Wednesday. “Really, to win four games in a row against one team is not do-able if you’re not believing in your team and yourself.

“That year we felt there were a couple of games we outplayed them but didn’t get the results. We knew we could play better. We had meetings and it was pretty much ‘We know we can do it, let’s everyone just raise their game up. If you’re playing at 95 percent, raise it to 97, 98 percent.’ And all of your focus is on ‘win the next game.’ And then the next one.”

The Flyers won the fourth game 5-4 in overtime in Philadelphia. They shut out the Bruins 4-0 in Boston, Leighton relieving an injured Brian Boucher in the second period. With Leighton in net and outplaying Rask, the Flyers won 2-1 in Game 6, then went into TD Garden and won 4-3 after trailing 3-0 in the first period of Game 7.

The Flyers became the first team since the 1975 New York Islanders to battle back from a 3-0 deficit, reaching the Stanley Cup final before losing to the Chicago Blackhawks. They became a part of NHL history.

“The odds are stacked against you, so the pressure technically is off you -- you’re not supposed to do it,” Leighton said. “Win that first game and then the pressure is on the other team to close it out. It makes them tighten up a little more and makes them think, ‘Oh, man, we better win the next one.’ Then if you win the next and you’re down 3-2, the other team is really going to be stressing to finish it off.”

The Bruins couldn’t do it to the Flyers that year. And now, against the Canes?

“I know from past experiences in winning a series the last game is always the hardest, every time,” Staal said. “We’re going to make it as hard as we can.”

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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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