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McElhinney was good but couldn't save Hurricanes in Game 4, McKenna says

Veteran analyzes play of goalies, impressed with confidence of Bruins' Rask

by Mike McKenna / Special to

Mike McKenna has been a professional goalie for the past 14 seasons and has played for seven NHL teams and 13 minor-league teams. Most recently he played in the Philadelphia Flyers organization, playing one NHL game with them this season. He also played 10 games with the Ottawa Senators in 2018-19.  

He knows about the most important position in the playoffs and a lot about the men who play it and those trying to score goals against them. So asked him to share his insights during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

In his first column, McKenna talks about the Boston Bruins' 4-0 win against the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final on Wednesday, which put the Bruins into the Stanley Cup Final. 

There was an expectation in Carolina that with the Hurricanes' season on the line, Game 4 would be a battle royale. It didn't happen. 

But for fans of goaltending, the saving grace Thursday was watching Curtis McElhinney valiantly hold his Hurricanes in the game for the better part of two periods until Boston's third goal at 10:32 of the third period put the game on ice.


[RELATED: Complete Bruins vs. Hurricanes series coverage]


So what happened on the goals against? A lot of deception, a little tic-tac-toe, and some genuinely skilled plays. 

On the first goal at 4:46 of the second period, Bruins forward Brad Marchand drove the puck wide with his blade closed and eyes staring straight forward at the net; tell-tale signs he would shoot. At the very last second, he turned the blade over and passed to streaking forward David Pastrnak for a layup. It's a play that would freeze any goalie, and McElhinney was no exception. 

Video: BOS@CAR, Gm4: Marchand, Pastrnak combine for PPG

Boston's second and third goals, each scored by center Patrice Bergereon, were much of the same; deceptive plays where the puck was moved quickly, and McElhinney either couldn't catch up to the speed of the play or was frozen by a deceptive stick maneuver.

At the other end, Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask continued his postseason success with his seventh straight win and another shutout, his second. 

Even though he didn't face many difficult opportunities, the confidence in his game is striking. The standing glove save on Carolina forward Justin Williams early in the second period is a perfect example. 

Goaltenders drop on virtually all shot attempts now. We are trained to take away the lower portion of the net first, because the majority of goals are scored there. When you see someone casually stand up and snare the puck like Rask, it's as impressive as it is rare. 

He has stolen a few games so far in the playoffs, but most importantly, he has closed out all the games when he wasn't relied upon to save the day.

In the end, the Hurricanes wasted a phenomenal performance from McElhinney, my old Omaha (American Hockey League) teammate. 

McElhinney may not have faced a high volume of shots on goal (22), but many were Grade-A variety and he was forced to battle and, at times, be creative in trying to keep Carolina's season alive. He was aggressive when needed, his movements were precise and his puck tracking was as good as I've seen from any goalie this season.

Video: BOS@CAR, Gm4: McElhinney uses glove to rob Marchand

If there's one thing McElhinney has proven, it's an ability to step into the spotlight and perform. He's used to coming off the bench within a game or starting the odd game to give the team's breadwinner a break.

From a technical perspective, what's admirable about McElhinney is how his game has evolved through the years. You can see shades of former playing partners Sergei Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Frederik Andersen of the Toronto Maple Leafs in how he plays, which is ironic given their age gap. It shows McElhinney is a professional in every sense of the word, one who is dedicated to constantly improving his craft.

He's also the type of guy that will lend you a Pack 'N Play on a moment's notice. When I was called up to Columbus years ago, my daughter Kenlin was only a few months old and we needed something for her to sleep in when my family eventually joined me in a downtown apartment graciously provided by the team. We figured that we'd have to bite the bullet and buy a portable crib just to use for a month or so, then donate it somewhere. Nope. Curtis asked if we needed anything, and before we knew it, he was pulling up with a room full of goods needed to help raise a child.

It's unfortunate this series ended so quickly. Boston clearly outplayed Carolina, but us goalies are always rooting for a fellow netminder to steal a few games and improve their team's chance of advancing. 

When you choose to play our position, the dream is always making the big, game-changing save. Though McElhinney made quite a few of those Thursday, it just wasn't enough. 

Boston is very good, and Rask is playing with supreme confidence in himself and his teammates. 

That's a dangerous combination.

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