Hurricanes, which are about to be eliminated, have an organizational investigation to do

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RALEIGH, NC – This column will not be fair. Not really. Not when a bounce here, a whistle there, a stroke of luck somewhere, anywhere, could have changed the entire complexion and story of this series, of this team, of the perception of this organization itself. Not when this team has looked this strong at five-on-five, not when the short-lived nature of special teams is the cause of its current problems, not when every game it plays – and every damn game it loses – seems decidedly are. by one goal, one shot, one deflection. Not when this team has had the longest sustained streak of success in franchise history.

But we need to talk about the Carolina Hurricanes.

Not in the same sense as the Toronto Maple Leafs – that’s too harsh, too melodramatic. But in the same paragraph.

Because it doesn’t work. It hasn’t worked. And it looks like it won’t work.

By now you know what the hurricanes are about. Depth versus elite finishers. Quantity of shots over quality. Ruthlessness over ingenuity. Goaltending is always good enough, never great enough. It works so beautifully, so majestically, from October to April. But they didn’t make it in May, and they didn’t even make it to June.

Carolina is an organizational marvel, one of the best-managed and most progressive front offices in the league. The Hurricanes have built a monster, a team so deep, so fast, so effective and so ferocious up front. They win battles. They pick up pucks. They weaken opponents. They won the NHL’s rugged Metropolitan Division three years in a row before being narrowly beaten by three points this season by the Presidents’ Trophy-winning New York Rangers. They have finished among the top three teams in the league each of the past four seasons. The analytical models love them, the gamblers favor them, and both the hockey guys and the computer kids respect them.

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Then come the playoffs, and, well, this happens.

The Hurricanes are once again on the brink, trailing 3-0 in the second round against the Rangers after Artemi Panarin’s acrobatic tip-in 1:43 into overtime gave New York a 3-2 win Thursday night. It was a heartbreaking way for Carolina to lose, especially after Andrei Svechnikov scored the tying goal with 1:36 left, sending the cacophonous PNC Arena into absolute chaos. It felt like this could be a turning point in the series. Instead, it just became another twist of the knife.

It was just as brutal on Tuesday night in Game 2, when the Hurricanes lost in double overtime at Madison Square Garden. And when they lost 4-3 in Game 1. And when they lost all four games of last season’s Eastern Conference finals against the Florida Panthers, each by one goal, two in overtime, one in quadruple overtime , the sixth…longest game in NHL history. Their last eight postseason losses were by one goal, five in overtime.

Always on the hunt for another goal. Always try to get over the hurdle. Never quite get there.

β€œIt’s a bit of a broken record,” Canes captain Jordan Staal said calmly Thursday evening. He was talking about another game where special teams – so strong all season – betrayed Carolina. The league’s second-best power play went 0-for-5 for the third straight game. The Hurricanes even allowed a short-handed goal to Chris Kreider as well as two excellent short-handed chances.

But Staal could also have been talking about the bigger picture. Because we’ve seen this May frustration too many times now.

If you include the Play-In round of the 2020 bubble playoffs, Carolina has won a postseason round in six straight seasons. It’s the kind of sustained competitiveness that most of the league would do anything for. But Carolina hasn’t won a game beyond the second round in those six seasons, winning the Eastern Conference finals in 2019 and 2023. The Hurricanes Way works extremely well in the regular season. It’s making quick work of wild-card level playoff teams like the New York Islanders the past two seasons.

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But against other elite teams – those with world players like Panarin, or Matthew Tkachuk and Aleksander Barkov, or Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point, and world top players like Igor Shesterkin or Sergei Bobrovsky or Andrei Vasilevskiy – they emerge. just short. Painful short. So short that it feels like a toss-up every time, that it feels unfair to hold those losses against them, that it feels like the hockey gods are just toying with them in their own cruel way.

But still short. Always short.

And so Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour can say ad nauseam that he enjoyed Carolina’s five-on-five matchup against the Rangers. He should. The Hurricanes were the better team at the evens in all three games. And we can point to Pyotr Kochetkov’s brilliant poke check on a Kreider breakaway in the final minute of regulation, or a number of saves from Frederik Andersen in the first two games. And we should. Both goaltenders were solid. And we can point out that Carolina has acquired the finisher that has always been missing in Jake Guentzel and he has scored three goals in the last two games. And we should. It is as advertised.

But eventually, stumbles become a trend, and stumbles become a feature. And while the outcome of each situation varies wildly, the Hurricanes are in a similar situation to the Maple Leafs, who have made β€œrun it back” a punchline and are running into a brick wall spring after spring after spring. The Canes are better than the Leafs. The Canes have accomplished more than the Leafs. The Canes are built as the opposite of the star-laden, top-heavy Leafs. But the Canes have won the Stanley Cup as many times as the Leafs. That’s what it’s all about, right? Both are built to win championships. Neither has gotten that close.

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Toronto fired coach Sheldon Keefe on Thursday. Carolina clearly won’t do the same with Brind’Amour, one of the best coaches in the league. He has a new contract waiting for him, but it is unfathomable that the franchise icon is behind the bench elsewhere. He will come back. But Carolina can reconsider things. The top duo Sebastian Aho and Svechnikov are locked up for a longer period of time, but the selection is full of waiting free players. General manager Don Waddell will have the kind of cap flexibility that most contenders can only dream of. Waddell could pursue more high-end talent up front and perhaps in goal. Brind’Amour can tinker with his system, perhaps loosening the structure and limitations of Carolina’s dump-and-chase, funnel-pucks-to-the-net-from-over-and-over style and encouraging more creativity and more offensive daring . . Something. Something. Because the Rangers attack the net. The Hurricanes are just shooting it.

Barring a historic comeback from a 3-0 deficit that makes this column and this story more moot than the silly idea that hockey can’t thrive in a southern market, Waddell and Brind’Amour must decide whether they want to participate, too. it back. Or when it’s time for something different.

“Tomorrow is a new day,” Staal said. ‘It’s going to hurt tonight, I won’t sleep much. But tomorrow we have a new day and we will find a way to win one game. It has been our example here for a long time.”

And it worked for a very long time. Just not quite good enough. Just not when it matters most.

(Photo by Martin Necas: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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