Andrei Svechnikov

‘Canes surge into summer with confidence after playoff run

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The Carolina Hurricanes enter the offseason confident of one thing: They shouldn’t have to wait another decade to return to the playoffs.

They hope their nucleus will make postseason appearances an every-year thing.

The Hurricanes made their first playoff berth since 2009 last much longer than most expected, advancing to the Eastern Conference final before they were swept by the Boston Bruins.

After getting a taste of postseason hockey, this largely young team wants to do it again.

”I think we all know now what it takes first of all to get to the playoffs, and to go through those tough series,” forward Sebastian Aho said Monday. ”Now we’re even more hungry.”

There’s reason to believe this group has staying power.

The entire defensive corps – including young stars Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce – is under team control for next season, with six of them signed and Haydn Fleury a pending restricted free agent.

Key winger Teuvo Teravainen is locked up through 2023-24. Promising forward Andrei Svechnikov oozed with promise during his rookie season. Aho, who also will be a restricted free agent, looks to be a candidate to receive a long-term deal. He declined to discuss his contract status.

This core was responsible for turning the franchise around and bringing entertainment – both during and after games – to the rink.

They brought back those beloved Hartford Whalers uniforms for a couple of games. They broke out the ”Storm Surge” celebrations, those choreographed on-ice parties after regular-season victories at home. They wore the jabs from curmudgeonly commentator Don Cherry as badges of honor – plastering his ”Bunch of Jerks” insult onto T-shirts that sold for $32 at the team shop. They welcomed a live pig named Hamilton into the building for home playoff games.

And, of course, they played winning hockey – especially after the calendar flipped to January. Their record of 31-12-2 was third-best in the league and propelled them from last place in the division to the top wild-card berth.

”As the year went on, as the record shows, it was a lot of good results, and coming to the rink was a lot of fun,” defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk said.

A few things to watch entering the offseason:

THE CAPTAIN’S FUTURE

The big question is whether 37-year-old Justin Williams will return for a second season as team captain with his two-year contract expiring this offseason. The three-time Stanley Cup winner known around the league as ”Mr. Game 7” for his exploits in those final games brought credibility and leadership to the dressing room and helped steer the young team’s midseason turnaround. ”I put everything I had into it this year, and if I have everything again, then I’ll be here,” Williams said. ”I haven’t gotten that far yet.”

THE GOALIES

The Hurricanes have some decisions to make with both goalies – Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney – facing free agency. Mrazek accepted a one-year, $1.5 million deal last offseason to prove he’s worthy of a starter’s job, and the team snatched the 35-year-old McElhinney off the waiver wire when Scott Darling was hurt. They both played well enough to make Darling an afterthought, and now the question is whether either or both will wind up sticking around.

FREE AGENCY

The only other unrestricted free agents on the roster are forwards Micheal Ferland and Greg McKegg. Ferland provided a strong physical presence on the ice, but he didn’t score any goals after February and had a single assist in the playoffs. The Hurricanes should have some money to spend when July 1 rolls around. According to salary tracking website CapFriendly.com, Carolina had the most room under the salary cap ($16.2 million) of any team in the league.

SPECIAL TEAMS FIX

Carolina has plenty of work to do on its power play, which led to the team’s undoing against Boston. The Hurricanes scored on less than 10% of their postseason chances with the man advantage – the worst rate of any team that reached the second round – and went stretches of 24 and 13 consecutive power plays without scoring. During the regular season, they scored on nearly 18% of their chances to rank 20th in the league.

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Bunch of questions for Hurricanes during offseason

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The Carolina Hurricanes continued their strange pattern during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs: during the rare times when they reach the postseason, the Hurricanes have made a big run of it.

It surely was bittersweet to get swept by the Boston Bruins in the 2019 Eastern Conference Final, much like it had been the last time the Hurricanes made the playoffs, when they were swept by the Pittsburgh Penguins, who eventually won the 2008-09 Stanley Cup.

Once the agony and ecstasy wears off from that run and the gutting sweep, the Hurricanes face a difficult task. They must build on this season, and ideally avoid spending another decade between playoff appearances. Most ideally, the Hurricanes would see this as a stepping stone to even bigger things in the future, rather than a peak that they can’t repeat.

Don Waddell is a finalist for GM of the Year, yet some of his toughest work could very well be ahead. It’s one thing to enjoy a Cinderella run, but what about becoming a consistent contender? Let’s consider some of the make-or-break factors and questions.

  • The goalie question(s)

For almost as long as they’d been out of the playoffs, the Hurricanes have grappled with problems in net.

To some surprise, the Petr MrazekCurtis McElhinney tandem eventually worked out for the Hurricanes this season, only crumbling after Round 2.

It could be a short-lived duo, however, as both Mrazek (27) and Curtis McElhinney (35) are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents. Should the Hurricanes bring one or both back? Where does 23-year-old Alex Nedeljkovic (37th overall in 2014) fit in? Would the Hurricanes be better off throwing their names in the Sergei Bobrovsky sweepstakes, or generally going after a bigger name?

There are some definite positives when looking at the Hurricanes’ salary structure at Cap Friendly.

Teuvo Teravainen and Nino Niederreiter are very affordable. Andrei Svechnikov has two more years on his entry-level deal. More or less dead money in Scott Darling and Alexander Semin’s buyout will expire after 2020-21.

Overall, Cap Friendly estimates that the Hurricanes only have about $54.24 million locked up in 14 players, and potential young additions such as Martin Necas should be cost-efficient.

But there are some contracts to hand out beyond whatever Carolina does in net, and Aho is the guy who could break the bank. Evolving Wild’s contract projections place Aho’s next cap hit at a hair above $10M per season, and even if Waddell can waddle that number down a bit, things could get challenging during a summer where other prominent RFAs (Mitch Marner, Patrik Laine, Brayden Point) could serve as the rising tides that lift all boats.

  • Other free agent calls

The Hurricanes also see two veterans eligible for the free agent market, as Justin Williams and Micheal Ferland need new deals. At 37, Williams still brings value, although you could argue that maybe the Hurricanes deployed him in excessively prominent spots at times. Ideally, you probably don’t want Williams on your top PP unit at this phase of his remarkable career. Ferland’s future with Carolina seemed to ebb and flow, with his season ending on such a low note that it might be surprising to see him back.

Then again, maybe that would make his asking price more modest? Teams often covet guys who can score a bit and also deliver hits like these.

  • Ship out some of that defensive surplus?

For some time, people have wondered if the Hurricanes might deal from their position of strength on defense to improve in other areas. That only intensified when they added Dougie Hamilton, who creates a mild logjam with Justin Faulk and Brett Pesce commanding big minutes as a right-handed defensemen.

That really didn’t feel like too much of a good thing during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, though, as Jaccob Slavin and Calvin de Haan rounded out a great group.

Still, it’s fair to continue to ask that question. Faulk’s contract expires after next season, and Hamilton is only locked up through 2020-21. So who knows?

  • Go bold?

Let’s say the Hurricanes still have a decent chunk of change left over after figuring out their goalie situation, signing Aho, and tending to other business.

There’s a difference between bumping against the cap ceiling and dealing with an internal budget, and the question is: did this run inspire owner Tom Dundon to maybe spend a little bit more? The Hurricanes haven’t been named as suitors for the likes of Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene, but maybe Carolina would hit an even higher level with a gamebreaker added to the mix? They certainly could’ve used just a little more oomph beyond Aho, Teravainen, Svechnikov, and Jordan Staal when the Hurricanes were struggling to score against the Bruins, both on the power play and overall.

Going the trade route could be especially lucrative because the Hurricanes didn’t sell out their 2019 NHL Draft at the deadline. They have three second-round picks thanks to previous moves, so those could be used to sweeten certain deals. After building patiently through the draft for years, the Hurricanes are in a spot where they can be aggressive in seeking more immediate returns.

***

For the most part, the Hurricanes are a young team, and while you never know when everything’s going to click for deep playoff runs, it’s easy to imagine Carolina getting even better.

Then again, the 2008-09 Hurricanes probably thought there would be great days ahead, so it’s all about making the right moves — and getting some good luck.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bruins top Hurricanes to take commanding 3-0 series lead

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In the end the goaltending change really didn’t matter much for the Carolina Hurricanes, mostly because the goalie at the end of the ice — Boston’s Tuukka Rask — continued his brilliant postseason performance to help lift the Bruins to a 2-1 Game 3 win.

You might even go as far as to say that Rask stole this one.

The Bruins now have a commanding 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Final and will have a chance to end it on Thursday night to clinch first Stanley Cup Final appearance since the 2012-13 season.

It had to be a bad omen for the Hurricanes on Tuesday when they dominated the first period and had absolutely nothing to show for it on the scoreboard.

Teuvo Teravainen missed a wide open net in the game’s first minute, the power play continued to struggle and failed to capitalize on an extended 5-on-3 advantage, and when they did create a great scoring chance and get the puck on net Rask was nearly unbeatable in the Boston crease.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

After mostly sleepwalking through the first period, the Bruins were able to strike for the game’s first goal just 1:21 into the second period when Chris Wagner scored his second goal of the playoffs.

Just five minutes later Brad Marchand scored on the power play to give the Bruins a 2-0 lead when he got a bit of a fortunate bounce in front of the net to beat Curtis McElhinney for his sixth goal of the playoffs.

McElhinney played good enough to win for the Hurricanes after getting the start over Petr Mrazek, but he had zero margin for error.

That is because the star of the game was Rask.

While he was a little lucky to have Teravainen and Andrei Svechnikov both miss the net completely on wide open looks, he was the best player on the ice and kept the Bruins in the game in the first period when they were outshot by a 20-6 margin. They were not all easy saves, either. He was challenged early and often and never flinched, continuing what has been one of the best postseason performances of his career.

The only slip-up he had was late in the second period when a Calvin de Haan shot snuck through his pads to get the Hurricanes on the board. They were never able to beat him again after that, or really even come close.

After sweeping the New York Islanders in Round 2 (after the Islanders swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in Round 1) the Hurricanes are now facing the possibility of being swept themselves.

This was Carolina’s first loss on home ice this postseason and Boston’s sixth win in a row overall.

Game 4 of Bruins-Hurricanes is Thursday night at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Hurricanes need more from special teams

The Carolina Hurricanes have been this year’s version of Cinderella in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but the clock is about to strike midnight on them if they don’t change certain aspects of their game in a hurry.

The Hurricanes find themselves down 2-0 in their best-of-seven series against the Boston Bruins heading into Game 3 on home ice. For them to get back into this series, they have to find a way to get their special teams play on track. Coming into the Eastern Conference Final, the Hurricanes had the worst power play of the four teams remaining (they were at right around 10 percent).

After two games against Boston, the Hurricanes’ power play has gone 1-for-7 (1-for-3 in Game 1, 0-for-4 in Game 2). When teams don’t score one the man-advantage, often times they’ll at least generate some positive momentum from those moments. For Carolina, the power play seemed to zap any and all momentum in Game 2.

On the flip side, the Bruins have used their power-play opportunities to their advantage. Yes, there’s been some controversy regarding how they got on the man-advantage in this series, but they’ve made their power plays count. So far in this series, Boston has gone 4-for-7 on the power play. How can the Hurricanes expect to win given those numbers?

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

You may not agree with the penalties the officials are handing out, but they have to find a way to kill some of them. The Hurricanes’ penalty kill can’t be under 50 percent through two games. That’s not a recipe for success.

The Hurricanes got the first power play of Game 2 when Zdeno Chara tripped Andrei Svechnikov in the first period. Carolina didn’t generate very much and the Bruins managed to open the scoring less than two minutes later. The Bruins then made it 2-0 late in the frame when they got a power-play goal from Jake DeBrusk.

“Yeah, we got a little frustrated after the second one went in,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said, per NHL.com. “But again, we weren’t very good after the first period or the last five minutes of the first and throughout the rest of the game. We got off our game, and give them credit, there’s a reason we got off our game. They’re playing their game, and we haven’t gotten to ours.”

Special teams isn’t the only reason the ‘Canes are down 2-0 in this best-of-seven series. Falling behind 1-0 on a goal that goalie Petr Mrazek absolutely needs to save was less than ideal. But falling apart after the Bruins opened the scoring can’t be your only option.

The one thing they have going for them is that they’re now going to play Games 3 and 4 on home ice. The issue is that they have absolutely no margin for error in any of these games. They have to find a way to go back to Boston with the series tied or they’ll be in deep trouble.

“I think just all in all we’ve got to rediscover who we are,” captain Justin Williams said after Game 2. “You spend all this time off leading up [to the series] and everyone writing articles about how great we are, and then you come out and sometimes you’ve got to eat a poop sandwich. It doesn’t taste good, and 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.”

(Williams doesn’t make poop sandwiches sound very appetizing).

We’re about to find out just how much magic the Hurricanes have left in the tank. Can they claw back into the series like the did against the Washington Capitals in the first round or will they fold?

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Penalties crush Hurricanes as Bruins storm back in Game 1

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The Carolina Hurricanes had their moments in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final, but penalties ended up being their Achilles’ heel in a 5-2 loss to the Boston Bruins.

The Bruins got on the board quickly thanks to Steven Kampfer, who was only in the game in the first place because Charlie McAvoy was serving a suspension. That lead was erased quickly though when Andrei Svechnikov‘s shot was deflected by Sebastian Aho just three seconds into a Hurricanes power play. Just like that, the score was 1-1 a mere 3:42 minutes into the contest.

Things calmed down after that until Greg McKegg charged hard into the net midway through the second period. Replays showed that he scored before colliding with Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask and the Bruins ultimately didn’t challenge the call, giving the Hurricanes a 2-1 lead.

Carolina’s edge wouldn’t hold though and it was largely due to a lack of discipline. Micheal Ferland was charged with interface late in the third and while the Hurricanes killed off that penalty, they weren’t so fortunate in the third. First Jordan Staal boarded Chris Wagner just 49 seconds into the frame. There might have been coincidental minors there as rookie defenseman Connor Clifton took exception to what Staal did, but Brad Marchand pulled Clifton back before the situation escalated.

That certainly isn’t a role Marchand is known for, but that wasn’t his only contribution in the period. He helped set up Marcus Johansson‘s game-tying goal on the ensuing power-play. When Dougie Hamilton took a roughing penalty at 2:41 of the third to put the Hurricanes in the box yet again, Marchand got another power-play assist, this time feeding the puck to Patrice Bergeron.

That said, the player who deserves the most credit on the Bergeron goal is arguably Jake DeBrusk, who collected the puck on his knees and got up while making the pass to Marchand to get that sequence going.

Hamilton took yet another penalty at 5:29 of the third, just to make life a little harder for the Hurricanes, but at least Carolina killed off that one. From there, the Hurricanes could not battle back. Brandon Carlo got an empty netter at 17:47 and Chris Wagner got one by Hurricanes goaltender Petr Mrazek at 17:58.

Carolina can look back at this game as a missed opportunity to take one early in Boston. The silver lining for the Hurricanes is that this series has only begun.

Hurricanes-Bruins Game 2 from TD Garden will be Sunday afternoon at 3:00 p.m. ET on NBC

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.