Long after the final horn sounded, Justin Williams and Jordan Martinook still looked stunned. Rod Brind'Amour looked drawn. They struggled to explain what just happened to the Carolina Hurricanes, allowing four goals in a span of 6:51 in the third period to the Boston Bruins to lose 4-3 in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference First Round at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Monday.
Now, instead of evening the best-of-7 series, they find themselves on the brink of elimination entering Game 5 in Toronto, the Eastern hub city, on Wednesday (4 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVAS, NESN, FS-CR).
"Taking over as coach, I wanted to make people that support this organization proud of how we play," Brind'Amour said. "I think we've done that for most of the time that I've been here, and today we didn't. And that's the most disturbing thing for me.
"So we've got to pick the pieces up and make sure we put an effort forward that you can say that that's how it should look and be proud of it. Win or lose, you've got to be proud of how you play, and that didn't happen tonight."
The Hurricanes took a 2-0 lead into the third period Monday following questionable goals on Bruins goalie Jaroslav Halak, who was beaten under his glove by Williams at 9:17 of the first period, and Martinook at 12:08 of the second.
But Carolina's game was looking increasingly shaky in the third period and started to come undone at 7:26, when Jake DeBrusk shot into an empty net after knocking the puck away from diving goalie James Reimer, who skated all the way into the slot in an attempt to clear the puck.
Things would escalate quickly from there.
Video: Bruins rally past Hurricanes with four-goal 3rd
Connor Clifton tied it 2-2 at 10:10, Brad Marchand gave the Bruins a 3-2 lead on a breakaway at 11:40, and DeBrusk scored his second alone in front to push it to 4-2 at 14:17.
"That was, quite frankly, as ugly a period as I've seen us play," Williams said. "You have to take ownership of it, and I certainly have to take ownership of that third goal. … Really, the whole period was certainly not what we're accustomed to. We got it handed to us."
The Hurricanes were outshot 16-2 in the third and didn't record their first shot until 18:33, when Teuvo Teravainen scored to make it 4-3. But that was all they could muster.
Carolina is the third team to allow at least four goals while taking two or fewer shots in a playoff period (since 1959-60). The Hartford Whalers allowed six goals and took two shots in the third period against the Bruins on May 11, 1991, and the Chicago Black Hawks allowed four goals while taking two shots in the second period against the Edmonton Oilers on April 24, 1983.
"The mindset wasn't there," Martinook said. "It's the playoffs. You know that they're going to come. You know how you need to do it to be successful and, I don't know, that's probably on us. I guess we need to dial everybody in in the intermission more. We need to lead the way and it wasn't there for us."
And the goals kept coming as a result.
"It snowballed into something that we didn't want," Williams said. "We couldn't catch it in time. That's on myself and everybody to slow it down and do the right thing. We couldn't get it done."
Brind'Amour repeatedly said he didn't have his players prepared enough for what they would face in the third period, but he also seemed stunned at how uncharacteristically they played.
"They threw everything at us and we didn't have an answer," Brind'Amour said. "It was tough to watch, that's for sure.
"I love this team. I love my guys. We learned a lesson today. … It wasn't good. We just sat back and we let them take it to us and that's what championship teams do, they take it to you. We've got to learn from that. But this one's going to sting for a while."
The Hurricanes will need to learn fast with Game 5 less than two days away, when they will try to stay alive without top-line forward Andrei Svechnikov, who was injured in Game 3, and possibly forward Jordan Staal, who left Game 4 at 9:53 of the third period after taking a hit from Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy.
"All you say is they have to win four," Williams said. "Right now we don't have any leeway. We don't have a fallback option. We've got to go go go. Your backs are up against the wall, that's when you learn what you're all about.
"It's obviously going to be tough, but it isn't over yet and we're going to give it our best."