Sports

Bruins hold off Canes 2-1, take 3-0 lead in Eastern Conference finals

Justin Williams didn’t want to talk about it, not one word.

Not Tuesday night, not after the Carolina Hurricanes’ 2-1 loss to the Boston Bruins at PNC Arena in the Eastern Conference finals.

But Williams will talk about it Wednesday. The Canes captain will at some point explain to his teammates how he played for the Los Angeles Kings in 2014, how they trailed the San Jose Sharks 3-0 in a first-round series, how they fought back and won it in seven games.

And, oh by the way, went on to win the Stanley Cup.

But not Tuesday night. There was too much pain in losing Game 3, the Canes’ first home defeat in the playoffs, in again being stymied by Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask, in falling behind 3-0 in the best-of-seven conference finals.

The Canes had 36 shots. Rask stopped 35, making 20 saves in a sloppy, at times frenetic first period when the Canes attacked from every angle, when they had four power plays including a 5-on-3 that produced 12 shots but still could not beat Rask.

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Jesse Plunkett of Raleigh, N.C. reacts during the closing minute of play as the Hurricanes fall 2-1 to the Boston Bruins’ in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday, May 14, 2019 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour called Rask “pretty special” and the Finnish goalie was that. The Canes did break through in the second period on a shot by defenseman Calvin de Haan, who scored his first career playoff goal, but it was a shot under Rask’s pads that Rask surely believed he should have stopped.

Why not, he stopped everything else. He’s dialed in, feeling it. And when Rask was a bit out of position, the Canes couldn’t find the net. Just 18 seconds into the game, Rask fell and the Canes’ Teuvo Teravainen was looking at an open net after a diagonal pass but was wide on his attempt.

Had that gone in ... but it didn’t. While badly disappointed in their play in the first two games of the series -- a 5-2 loss and 6-2 battering Sunday -- the Canes played their fast and frisky style of game but still couldn’t crack Rask.

“We said before the game we wanted to at least show everybody what we’re about,” Brind’Amour said. “We hadn’t done that in two games, really. I think we can feel good about the fact we at least gave them a game. I mean, we hadn’t given them a game and it was pretty easy for them. At least we battled hard. I’m proud of the way we played.”

The Canes gave goalie Curtis McElhinney his first start of the series after Petr Mrazek was in net the first two games. It wasn’t a desperation move by Brind’Amour, who has rotated goalies all season, and McElhinney was solid enough with 29 saves.

“Mac was great, he gave us a chance tonight and that’s all you can ask,” Brind’Amour said.

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Carolina Hurricanes’ Jaccob Slavin (74) protects the puck from Boston Bruins’ Chris Wagner(14) in front of Hurricanes’ goalie Curtis McElhinney (35) during the second period of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday, May 14, 2019 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

After a scoreless first period, the Bruins picked up another goal from their fourth line as Chris Wagner scored on a tip-in after a Canes turnover in their zone. They picked up another power-play goal as Brad Marchand scored on a backhander, the puck hitting de Haan, for a 2-0 lead.

In contrast, the Canes were 0-5 on the power play in the game, generating 14 shots. Brind’Amour called it the Canes’ “Achilles heel” all season and it was again Tuesday, when a power-play goal, especially in the first period, could have been the difference.

But the Canes also spent a lot of time in the penalty box in the first period. Williams had three penalties in the period, all after tussles with Bruins defenseman Torey Krug.

Williams had chided himself after being baited into a penalty by Marchand in Game 2, saying he should know better as a veteran and leader of the team. He would not discuss his penalties Tuesday, nor did Brind’Amour dwell on them.

The Canes had their chances to tie the score. Sebastian Aho forced Rask into a tough save off the rush and Andrei Svechnikov had a good look off a Teravainen pass and missed the net in the second.

The Bruins believed they had scored in the third but had a goal waved off for goaltender interference on Jake DeBrusk -- a call upheld after a coach’s challenge by the Bruins’ Bruce Cassidy.

Rask, who entered the game with a .937 save percentage in the playoffs, weathered the last-gasp push at the end after the Canes pulled McElhinney for a sixth attacker.

“He was the difference maker,” Brind’Amour said of Rask.

Can the Canes win four straight games? They swept the New York Islanders in the second round, beating a good goalie in Robin Lehner.

Game 4 is Thursday at PNC Arena and Williams did have one closing thought: “We’re not going away quietly.”

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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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