This series hasn’t gotten away from the Carolina Hurricanes because of the one that got away, even if Matthew Tkachuk has scored the two biggest goals of the postseason. And they haven’t lost a pair of overtime games because Andrei Svechnikov is watching instead of playing.
It’s easy to point to the players who aren’t here as the reason the Hurricanes are down 2-0 to the Florida Panthers, but that’s folly. Even with Svechnikov in the lineup, the Hurricanes have gone through stretches like this, when they do what it takes to score and still don’t. Even without him, they have no excuse for being outscored 4-1 at five-on-five.
Still, it’s hard to watch Tkachuk really make only two plays in this entire series, but two overtime game-winners. That’s why he gets the big bucks, and that’s also why the Hurricanes made a run at him during the offseason, before the Calgary Flames accepted the Florida Panthers’ offer of Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar. Even throwing Seth Jarvis into the deal, which the Hurricanes weren’t willing to do, may not have been enough.
The Panthers have gotten their money’s worth though, even if Tkachuk has been mostly ordinary in this series otherwise. He has the goal-scorer’s knack for being in the right place at the right time when it matters, precisely what the Hurricanes’ big guns have mostly lacked during this postseason.
While Sebastian Aho always seems to be at his best when the stakes are highest — and certainly was in the revelatory third period of the must-win Game 6 of the first round — the Hurricanes’ biggest playoff goals have been scored by Jesper Fast (twice) and Paul Stastny.
Which naturally raises the question: Would the Hurricanes be struggling so mightily to beat Sergei Bobrovsky if Svechnikov or Max Pacioretty (or both) were healthy? But that’s a fool’s game, as pointless as it is moot.
The Hurricanes knew long ago that neither of those guys were going to be a part of this postseason (unlike Teuvo Teravainen, who is playing at something less than 100 percent), and their mindset against the New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils reflected that.
Even when they weren’t being rewarded against the Islanders, they kept plugging away. Even when they got worked by the Devils — and Game 3 in Newark was no game of inches like these have been — they bounced back with a thumping of their own.
There’s no point in pondering the what-ifs. The hypotheticals are flawed. The Hurricanes would be a different team if they’d had to give up Jarvis or Martin Necas in a Tkachuk deal — better, perhaps, although there’s no guarantee, but unquestionably different. They have gone through long scoring droughts even with Svechnikov healthy. He went all of January without scoring, a full quarter of the season without a goal. Pacioretty came and went in the blink of an eye.
There is so much more the Hurricanes can do to turn chances into goals and win a Game 3 on the road, something they’ve done only once in the last six tries. They haven’t spent nearly as much time in front of Bobrovsky as they should have, especially on the power play. The line combinations that worked so well against the Devils have not been productive against the Panthers and cry out for change.
There’s no reason to look outward. The answers to all of the Hurricanes’ problems lie within.
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