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Conference Final

Hurricanes must spark ailing power play to avoid playoff elimination

Struggles with man-advantage against Bruins have season on brink

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / NHL.com Senior Director of Editorial

RALEIGH, N.C. -- A power-play outage has put the Carolina Hurricanes' season on the brink of extinction.

The Hurricanes have scored five goals against the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Final, one with the man-advantage. Boston leads the best-of-7 series 3-0 and can advance to the Stanley Cup Final with a victory in Game 4 at PNC Arena on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).

The power-play inefficiency, one that coach Rod Brind'Amour calls the Achilles' heel, is nothing new for the Hurricanes. Carolina has scored on five of 50 opportunities in the Stanley Cup Playoffs (10.0 percent) but survived a seven-game series against the Washington Capitals in the first round and swept the New York Islanders in the second round. In the regular season, the power play was 17.8 percent, 20th in the NHL.

 

[RELATED: Complete Bruins vs. Hurricanes series coverage]

 

But it has been a killer in the conference final. The Hurricanes are 1-for-12 with forward Sebastian Aho scoring on the first opportunity of the series in a 5-2 loss in Game 1. They are 0-for-11 since, those struggles blunting the precious little momentum they have been able to generate.

In a 2-1 loss in Game 3, the Hurricanes had five power plays, including a 5-on-3 that morphed into a 4-on-3 midway through the first period when the score was 0-0. But they mustered little against the Bruins' penalty killers, forward Joakim Nordstrom and defensemen Zdeno Chara and Brandon Carlo.

"We actually had some pretty good looks," Brind'Amour said Wednesday. "The 4-on-3 was not good, and we looked at that again today. That might be a little mental. Sometimes, I think you just go play and forget what we are trying to do. It's a tough situation."

When the first period ended, the Hurricanes had 20 shots on goal to the Bruins' six, but Boston scored twice in the second period to take control of the game, including Brad Marchand's power-play goal at 6:28 that proved to be the game-winner. Boston is 5-for-12 with the man-advantage in the series.

Video: Johnston, Jaffe wrap up another tough loss for Canes

The Hurricanes had their best chance in the first when Bruins forward Charlie Coyle took the extra roughing penalty in a goal-mouth scramble in front of Boston goalie Tuukka Rask at 14:19. They had four Grade A chances, and captain Justin Williams hit the crossbar with a shot through a traffic jam in front of the crease.

"The other stuff I thought was the best of the series," Brind'Amour said. "We had some real good opportunities. I thought that was when their goalie was at his best. There were a couple of key moments there early in the game where maybe we get one or two."

If the Hurricanes are going to become the fifth team in NHL history to erase a 3-0 lead in a best-of-7 series, they know the power play will have to play an integral part. It's hard to be confident that they can succeed 5-on-5 when Rask has been so brilliant in the series, with a 1.67 goals-against average and .944 save percentage.

Brind'Amour is approaching Game 4 with hope, not doom and gloom. The players appear to be on the same page when it comes to the stagnant power play.

"I think in the first couple games, we were having a hard time with our entries," Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin said. "But last game I thought we had a lot of good looks, a lot of good chances. Especially in the first period there, we had a lot of really close ones. "So I think we've just got to keep working at it, keep working the shots from up top and I think we'll get some chances again in tomorrow's game."

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