BOSTON — There is no way to sugarcoat how badly this Eastern Conference Final has started for the Carolina Hurricanes.
They didn’t even bother to try.
“You spend all this time off leading up, and everyone writing articles about how great you are, and you come out and sometimes you’ve got to eat a poop sandwich,” said captain Justin Williams. “It doesn’t taste good. You have to chew on it for a little bit, and we’ll have to do it for a couple days, and get the taste out of our mouths next game.”
The Hurricanes need to make strides in basically every facet of their game in order to get back in this series. Boston had the better goaltending, sharper specialty teams and more dangerous offensive chances while sweeping the set at TD Garden by a combined score of 11-4.
The Mother’s Day matinee was a stroll in the park for the Bruins.
They got goals from unlikely places — including two from Matthew Grzelcyk and the first of Connor Clifton’s NHL career — while cruising to a 6-2 victory. It was the easiest win yet on Tuukka Rask’s playoff redemption tour, with Carolina only generating nine scoring chances against, according to naturalstattrick.com.
“We didn’t really give them an inch,” said Rask.
Boston looks like a freight train speeding towards the Stanley Cup Final after reeling off five straight victories. It had to dig out of holes in the series against Toronto (trailing 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2) and Columbus (trailing 2-1), but is applying weight to the gas pedal now.
The turning point in Game 2 came just after the 15-minute mark of the first period, when Grzelcyk snuck a shot through Petr Mrazek on the blocker side. That was one the Hurricanes goaltender should have had and set the tone for an afternoon where he got beaten six times on 25 shots.
Of the first Grzelcyk goal, Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said it “was no good, and [Mrazek] knows that.” He spoke with the goaltender about potentially pulling him for Curtis McElhinney, but ultimately decided against it.
“He’s a battler,” said Brind’Amour. “A lot of other guys on the bench deserve to come out if that’s how we’re doing it. That’s not how we do it.”
Heading home for Game 3 on Tuesday, the Hurricanes will be looking for some kind of spark. It could come from turning back to McElhinney in goal and/or using last line change to find Sebastian Aho more favourable matchups at 5-on-5 after a quiet start to this series.
They’ll also be looking to make life more difficult on Rask, who is arguably the Conn Smythe front-runner at this stage. It starts with establishing the cycle and spending more time deep in the offensive zone.
“We’ve got to rediscover who we are,” said Williams. “We turned over way too many pucks and our identity is below the tops of the circles. Our identity hasn’t been established this series.”
The truest sign of Carolina’s growing frustration came from the 37-year-old captain after he was knocked to the ice by a Brad Marchand hook around the neck late in the second period. It was garden variety stuff for the Bruins agitator — the kind of tactic Williams has battled through many times before while winning three Stanley Cups and appearing in 153 playoff games — but this time he got up and grabbed Marchand by the chin strap.
“I’ve just got to know better,” said Williams.
He was called for the only penalty on the play and Marchand cupped his hand to make a ‘C’ on his sweater while pointing Williams towards the penalty box. Boston scored on the ensuing power play, just as it had during a tripping penalty by Williams earlier in the game.
“I think he was a little frustrated that he fell down,” said Marchand. “But it was just good that we capitalized on that opportunity. I’ve been on that side plenty of times, it’s not fun.
“He’s their captain, he’s their leader over there and bounced back with a big goal late to get them going. So he’s got a lot of character, he plays hard, and he’s a good player for them.”
All and all, it was a burn the tape performance — the last place they’ll look for solace or small signs of encouragement. Instead that will likely come from their experience in Round 1, when they dropped the opening two games in Washington and rallied to eliminate the defending Cup champions in seven.
The Jerks now have 48 hours to find some answers and a little life. All they left Boston with was a bad taste in their mouths.
“We’ll chew on it and then Game 3’s ours,” said Williams.