Seeing Justin Williams get embarrassed by Brad Marchand must have been demoralizing.
Like, yeah, that should have been a penalty on Marchand to start the altercation but Williams totally lost his mind there, getting the dumb retaliation penalty — isn’t that always the way? — and the extra humiliation of the “aren’t you the captain, bro?” taunting from the league’s premier pest.
The Bruins scored on the ensuing power play, and if that isn’t indicative of how the whole thing has gone to date, I don’t know what is.
Indeed, the Hurricanes came out in Game 1 — a game in which they were routed nearly as badly as they were on Sunday — and tried to play the Bruins’ game better than the Bruins. Which, given the quality of that roster, was always going to be a losing proposition. You can probably goad them into a dumb penalty or two, sure, but if you want to play physical, they’re going to be more than happy to do it, and they’re also skilled enough to make you commit penalties in the course of that physical play, too.
They’re going to play through the hits. They like to play through the hits. That Williams penalty, well, isn’t that anyone who’s ever tried to engage the Bruins physically?
Put another way, if you’re going to try to get Marchand to do something stupid, you’re likely to succeed, but only if you do something as stupid or stupider. Ask Hurricanes mascot Hamilton what happens when you wrestle with pigs.
Hurricanes captain Justin Williams compares recent losses to eating "a poop sandwich"
... I don't believe any amount of BBQ sauce, pickles, mayo, etc will make that appetizing.https://t.co/k4BYTV8Lht @WNCN pic.twitter.com/DwKSZB30jg
— Jeff Jones (@JeffJonesSports) May 13, 2019
There was a lot of the same idea in Game 1 of the Blues/Sharks series. They were running hard at Erik Karlsson any time he had the puck. Karlsson got pretty well banged up in that game — the SAP Center scorers credited the Blues with seven hits against him — but he also had 55 percent of the shot attempts when he was on the ice at 5-on-5, and the Sharks outscored St. Louis 2-0.
So they took a bit of a toll, but what’s the thing smart hockey people have been saying about hitting for years? You can only get credit for a hit if you don’t have the puck, and probably the most dangerous place on the ice for the puck to be is on Karlsson’s stick or, quite often, having just recently left it.
Maybe you can make the argument that this kind of physical toll adds up over the course of the series but the way things are going right now, there won’t be much more series played for these teams.
But the Blues learned from their mistake in Game 1, while Carolina did not. Even as Robert Bortuzzo was still throwing hits, the Game 2 hero was also getting up in the play and making a difference with actual hockey skills. Rod Brind’Amour could take a lesson.
The Hurricanes were not only one of the best expected-goals teams in the league this year, they were one of the best in the past 12 seasons, and the Bruins have crushed them (to the tune of 60.2 xGF%) through 120 minutes. The Hurricanes defense is having a meltdown in giving up 32 high-danger scoring chances, seven of which went in the back of the net. It tells you plenty that a good chunk of that comes because they wanted to beat the Bruins at their own game.
The four other Boston goals in this series — it has two more each on medium- and low-danger scoring opportunities — can be seen as potentially a Petr Mrazek thing, insofar as he’s been quite bad. But it’s almost immaterial because all the other stuff is breaking down well before the puck gets to the “home plate” area.
The Hurricanes and Blues both got out to slow starts this season and turned it around to become two of the best teams in the entire league playing a very specific brand of hockey that prioritized speed and an aggressive forecheck. Both entered their Conference Finals with a new game plan, and through nine periods got outscored by a combined 17-7. Most of those seven goals were scored in garbage time.
You hate to say it’s a consequence of coaches outthinking themselves or letting an opponent’s quality get in their head, but that’s really what it feels like. Maybe they’d be in the same position if they’d come out just playing their preferred games, because both teams have opponents that proved elite — at least talent-wise — basically from Day 1 of the season. But for me you gotta dance with who you came to the dance with. You gotta go with what got you there, and the Blues figured that out to even the series.
So yeah, you do have to eat the poop sandwich sometimes, for sure. Great teams will make you do that. But you don’t have to set the table, too.
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