Hurricanes bring their best in Game 3, and it’s not good enough

It was everything the Carolina Hurricanes wanted, everything they needed, a period that could turn a series around. Could have turned a series around, anyway.

The Hurricanes gave it their best shot Tuesday, right off the hop. They rode the crowd to a dominant first period, getting their forecheck in gear, piling up shots and drawing penalties.

And what did they have to show for it? As many goals as Hamilton the Pig scored against the Boston Bruins in the first Tuesday night.

The Hurricanes had to get something out of that first. They poured too much into it to come away with nothing. But nothing was all they got despite 20 shots and 46 seconds of two-man advantage.

“You need to get something out of that period, obviously,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “Not getting anything was a little bit demoralizing.”

All that effort, everything they had hoped they would do to bounce back from the no-show Game 2 loss in Boston on Sunday, for naught. The Bruins, predictably, scored twice in the second period on their way to a 2-1 win, and after coming within inches of getting back in the series in the opening 20 minutes, the Hurricanes now face elimination on Thursday in Game 4.

They threw everything they had at it. This was their best. It wasn’t enough. Where do you go from here?

“That’s the start we wanted. Was it deflating? We didn’t seem deflated,” Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk said. “I’m sure maybe guys were obviously thinking that you wish you would get one, and anyone wishes they would have gotten one there when you’ve got the pressure going and you’re making it tough on them.”

It’s all steamrolling against them now. When they’re good, Tuukka Rask is better. When they’re not, the Bruins find a way to score, tonight against Curtis McElhinney, called from the bullpen after Game 2 to relieve the struggling Petr Mrazek. The game-winner bounced between McElhinney’s legs after deflecting off Calvin de Haan’s left hand, unofficially, his third goal of the playoffs. He knocked one into his own net against the Islanders and scored the Hurricanes’ only goal Tuesday with a big-windup slapper that got between Rask’s wickets, officially the first playoff goal of his career.

It was an odd one for Rask to let through, his five hole closed to the naked eye but not to the puck, which nicked Rask’s left pad on the way through his legs. But as good as Rask was – and he has been solid throughout the series – the Hurricanes missed at least five open nets with Rask out of position, starting with Teuvo Teravainen in the first and ending with Sebastian Aho late in the third.

The margins are too fine at this point in the season to squander such opportunities – or for Justin Williams to take three first-period penalties, the last a nasty elbow to Torey Krug’s head, the culmination of a running battle between the two Tuesday.

Zdeno Chara got Williams off his game in Game 1, Brad Marchand was in Williams’ kitchen in Game 2 and Krug rented space in Williams’ head in Game 3, all of which is out of character for the typically level-headed captain whose steady leadership helped get the Hurricanes to this point but has been absent by example in the first three games.

Williams will have to be better, as a leader and a player, if the Hurricanes are going to pull off the improbable but not impossible comeback. He is far from alone in that respect. As good as the first period was Tuesday, the Hurricanes couldn’t sustain it. They’ll have to replicate it Thursday, and again, and again, to have any hope of overturning what, at this point, appears to be fate.

“That’s more of the way we wanted to play,” Williams said. “Obviously it just didn’t go in for us. It stinks. But it happens sometimes. We’re not going to go away quietly.”

They can take solace in finally bringing their best Tuesday night. There will be no solace in the grim reality it wasn’t enough.

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Sports columnist Luke DeCock has covered four Final Fours, the Summer Olympics, 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.