Tuesday, 8 June 2021

Never Made Landfall

I'm still convinced that the Carolina Hurricanes would have fared better in this series had they worn their red uniforms, but that option won't be available until next season after the Tampa Bay Lightning ended the Hurricanes' run in the playoffs with a 2-0 win to clinch the series by a 4-1 margin. While this series was certainly enjoyable, the Hurricanes never could solve Andrei Vasilevskiy often enough to buoy their hopes of advancing, and the Lightning slowly wore down the Hurricanes with the poetry-in-motion power-play that the Hurricanes simply could not stop.

It doesn't matter how often one scores in the regular season or how many points one compiles in the standings when it's been fairly clear throughout the playoffs that defence, special teams, and goaltending are why teams are advancing. This series was no different as the Lightning benefitted greatly from Vasilevskiy's abilities in the net while the Lightning defence kept the dangerous Carolina forwards to the outside and away from the front of the net.

The Lightning also used a power-play that is scoring on 41.7% of their opportunities in the playoffs, including an insane 43.8% in the second round to really punish the Hurricanes for playing undisciplined hockey, and it's clear that the Lightning will destroy any team that wants to spend more than six minutes in the penalty box per game. The Hurricanes took 19 minor penalties over the series, and the Lightning scored seven times. To put that in perspective, the Hurricanes scored just nine times in five games. Yes, the Lightning are good.

There are going to be detractors about what the Lightning are doing because of their clear exploitation of the salary cap rules, but the NHL created a loophole that the Lightning are currently using. One can complain mightily about the Lightning dressing a lineup that is $17 million over the regular-season salary cap rules, but don't hate the player if the game allows the player to cheat without penalty. The Lightning are, by every letter of the rulebook, following the rules are they are written. C'est la vie.

Do I like it? No, not one bit. But I'm also not going to sit here and throw shade at the defending Stanley Cup champions because they know how to bend the rules a little better than everyone else. They found the loophole, they jumped right into it, and they haven't looked back.

If you'e a Hurricanes fan, there's still a lot to like about the Hurricanes moving into next season. They have exciting players up front who can score goals in bunches. They have great depth on their blue line with players who can step in and contribute in big ways if someone is injured or out of the lineup. They discovered an amazing netminder in Alex Nedeljkovic who rightfully should be the starter until Petr Mrazek can steal the job back while James Reimer is there to push both netminders to be their best. There is a ton of talent on this roster, and the experience of losing to the Stanley Cup champions will turn into positive lessons for the Hurricanes moving forward.

The Hurricanes showed they can go toe-to-toe with some of the best rosters in winning the Central Division this season. It shouldn't be lost on anyone that this team can and will compete for years to come assuming their core stays intact, but they ran into the defending Stanley Cup champions who lost no significant pieces from a championship squad one year ago. That fact alone means that the Hurricanes may have been slight underdogs in this series despite what the standings said, but it will result in lessons learned for those young players that the Hurricanes employ. As the old adage goes, "One must learn to lose before one learns how to win."

While the Lightning now await the winner of the New York Islanders and Boston Bruins while the Hurricanes will regroup and get ready for next season. While they only got five games against the defending champs, the Hurricanes showed that they were ready to give the Lightning everything they had in this series. And while it didn't end the way that they wanted, the Hurricanes showed that they're on the precipice of greatness with this showing against the defending champs.

While the Hurricanes never quite reached the promised land this season, it's pretty clear that they're getting closer to reach that land with each passing season. Will they reach that pinnacle before the winds of change swoop in and break up this team? The answer, my friend, seems to be blowin' in the wind.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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