Backs against the wall, Hurricanes can’t talk their way around how they got there

Polish it up, put a pretty face on it, cook the stats, cherry-pick the highlights. It’s what you do after you lose a playoff game by one goal for the eighth straight time, after losing a fifth straight in overtime, after your season is pushed to the brink of extinction.

Because somehow you have to find an excuse to get up in the morning, get to the rink, rally some emotion and try again.

The reality is, it almost certainly doesn’t matter. Thursday night was the Carolina Hurricanes’ best and perhaps last chance to get back in this series, and it ended the same way all of their playoff losses seem to end.

Even if they can postpone the handshakes by winning on Saturday, the Hurricanes are fighting against the same long odds as all but the four teams that somehow navigated their way out of this predicament.

By the time Artemi Panarin tipped the puck past Pyotr Kochetkov 102 seconds into overtime Thursday to give the New York Rangers a 3-2 win and put them up 3-0 in the series, the bell was already tolling for the Hurricanes.

They can thank their power play for that, 0-for-5 again, now 0-15 in the series, with the added bonus of giving up a backbreaking short-handed goal Thursday. The Hurricanes are minus-5 in special teams in the series after losing three one-goal games. That’s it. That’s all.

Slice it as thin as you want, it all comes back to that. The NHL’s second-best power play in the regular season is cutting the Hurricanes’ postseason abruptly short.

“Obviously, three games in a row, same story,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “I hate it for the guys, because I think we’re playing really well. You take that part of it out of it, they’ve done everything we’ve asked the guys to do.”

Kotchetkov saved the Hurricanes’ season in December and he nearly did it again Thursday, stopping or steering wide multiple breakaways and even showing the composure he lacked earlier in his career when two different melees erupted during a surly first period and he turned and skated to the corner instead of engaging.

Andrei Svechnikov was a force again, throwing his body around and dominating play, but he didn’t get the goal he deserved until it was almost too late, the score-tying goal with 96 seconds to go and Kochetkov on the bench.

The guy who didn’t play in the playoffs last year and the guy they got at the deadline both scored — Jake Guentzel and not Evgeny Kuznetsov, who mustered no response to his Game 2 benching — exactly what we were told was going to prevent a repeat of the Florida series last spring, and so far the results are the same.

Brind’Amour tried to say then that sweep wasn’t really a sweep and he seemed on the verge Thursday of saying the Rangers’ 3-0 lead wasn’t really a 3-0 lead, but playoff games aren’t determined by shot totals or scoring chances. The Rangers didn’t have as many of either, but they had more goals. Only one thing matters. It’s a make or miss game.

“They win games a different way than we do, and we still have to find a way to keep the puck out of our net and score more than they do,” Hurricanes captain Jordan Staal said. “They did a good job of scoring on their opportunities and they’ve got some special players we’ve got to stop and a goaltender we’ve got to find a way to beat. So that’s their game plan. It’s working for them obviously. And our game plan has to change a bit.”

Put a pin in that thought until the season’s over, whenever that may be. That conversation — about style, philosophy, personnel, all of it — is coming, even if the Hurricanes find a way out of this blind alley they shouldn’t even be in.

The conversation now is what it always is. Focus on the next game. Focus on the next shift. It’s true that the Hurricanes have been the better team at five-on-five. If their power play ever shows up, they might have better odds at flipping the script than the average team in a 3-0 hole.

But that’s what they said before Game 3, and the story was the same. And now even closer to its conclusion.

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