Goaltending defining Eastern Conference Final

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There are few worse times to be embroiled in a goaltending controversy, but here we are.

The Carolina Hurricanes could very well face a series-defining decision ahead of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final on Tuesday night at PNC Arena (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN; live stream). The Hurricanes return home with some extra baggage in the form of an 0-2 series deficit and a big question mark between the pipes.

Should Rod Brind’Amour pull the trigger and promote Curtis McElhinney ahead of Petr Mrazek? Will it make a difference against the Boston Bruins team armed to the teeth with firepower? Does a young coach have much of a choice? He wasn’t going to reveal his decision Tuesday morning.

“I can’t be that guy who does that,” Brind’Amour said. “Sorry.”

Brind’Amour let Mrazek eat six goals against in Game 2 as his playoff save percentage plummeted to .894. Blaming Mrazek for all 11 of the goals against in the first two games wouldn’t be fair. The Hurricanes haven’t been the same ‘Bunch of Jerks‘ that captured the attention of the hockey world through the first two rounds. Penalty woes, defensive breakdowns — they’ve all led to goals.

And yes, Mrazek has been to blame for a few as well.

The 35-year-old McElhinney has featured already in these playoffs. The latter half of Carolina’s 1A-1B tandem went 3-0 with a .947 save percentage before Mrazek returned (perhaps too early?) from a lower-body injury that forced him out of Game 2 of Round 2 against the New York Islanders.

Brind’Amour has to be taking a long look at McElhinney’s shining numbers. It’s must-win territory for the Hurricanes, who have been re-introduced to what a good offense entails after having a pretty easy time with the Islanders lackluster group.

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It might be a hot take, but it feels that the only way that Tuukka Rask emerges from the shadow of Tim Thomas is if he can lead the Bruins to the second Stanley Cup in eight years. Rask came close to having similar immediacy to his success in 2013 but the Bruins came up short in the lockout-shortened year against the Chicago Blackhawks.

With a little more rest this season, Rask seems reinvigorated and it’s putting himself in a position to create his own shadow.

While Rask’s job hasn’t appeared in jeopardy in these playoffs, starting out 2-3 against the Toronto Maple Leafs was far from ideal. Facing elimination may have been the best thing to happen to the Finn, however. It’s been ‘Tuukka Time’ ever since.

Rask is 8-2 dating back to Game 6 of Round 1, allowing 1.72 goals-against and stopping 94.4 percent of the shots he’s faced. He’s only become better as the playoffs have aged. During Boston’s five-game winning streak, Rask has dropped that GAA to 1.60 and upped the save percentage to .953.

The last time Rask played this good, ironically, was during the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Two riddles to solve for Carolina, one at each end of the rink, and so little time to solve them.

MORE:
Should Hurricanes make goalie change for Game 3?
Why Hurricanes have embraced ‘bunch of jerks’ moniker
• PHT Conference Finals predictions

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck