Take Warning: The Carolina Hurricanes are in the NHL Eastern Conference Finals

Things are looking grim for the Carolina Hurricanes right now, which is hard for me to say as a fan, and I’m not a “Frontrunner,” as reporter Don Cherry calls the bandwagon fans that only came to root for the Hurricanes during this year’s Eastern Conference Playoffs. I’ve been supporting the Carolina Hurricanes for eight years now, since I was in the fifth grade, and, let me tell you, they weren’t always good. It used to be difficult to admit that I was a Hurricanes fan, but I’m loyal and I love an underdog. This year, however, things have changed. The Hurricanes are making history, achieving their first best of seven sweep ever, and I like to believe it’s because of their goalies. That’s right. The goalies. As a past goalie myself (for soccer, not hockey), I know that a team is nothing without its goalie.

Before the start of this hockey season, the Carolina Hurricanes signed contracts with both Petr Mrazek, their primary goalie, and Curtis McElhinney, their secondary goalie. During the 2018-2019 Playoffs season, Mrazek has faced 282 shots on goal, and he has only allowed 30 to slip past him. Thus, Mrazek has a save percentage of 89.4 percent with 660 minutes in goal (Source). No wonder fans are referring to the team’s recent success as the Mrazek Miracle! McElhinney is just as good as Mrazek, despite spending less time in goal throughout the season, and he proved essential when Mrazek suffered an injury during the Hurricanes’ second game against the New York Islanders. During the 2018-2019 Playoffs season, McElhinney has faced 75 shots on goal, and he has only allowed four to slip past him. Thus, McElhinney has a save percentage of 94.7 percent with 154 minutes in goal (Source). I have had the pleasure of seeing both goalies play at PNC arena, and I must admit, the first time I saw McElhinney play, I was skeptical. I had never heard of him before, and I was a strong supporter of the Mrazek Miracle. However, McElhinney proved himself worthy, and now I am equally eager to see either goalie play.

However, the Hurricanes have recently met some difficulty when playing against the Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals. So far, the Hurricanes have lost the first three games out of a best of seven round. If they lose the next game, the Bruins will achieve the second best of seven sweep in the 2018-2019 NHL Playoffs. However, it is possible that the Hurricanes could drag out the round all seven games, as they did in the Playoffs against the Capitals. Unfortunately, the Hurricanes’ goalies have faced the most criticism after the most recent losses, especially Mrazek. I am writing this article, in part, as a defense of the goalies. Yes, goalies occasionally make mistakes, but, from what I have seen, Mrazek and McElhinney are making a great number fewer mistakes than the Hurricanes' offensive and defensive players. Between messy passes, sloppy turnovers and an excessive allowance of opponent breakaways, Mrazek and McElhinney have been forced to face many difficult shots on account of the rest of their team. The Hurricanes, overall, have had a great season, but there is definitely room for improvement. Therefore, despite the fact that goalies can make mistakes, I believe that Mrazek and McElhinney have been playing to the best of their abilities, given the circumstances, and any criticism in regard to the recent losses should be directed to the entire team, not just the goalies. Despite many of the goals that the Bruins made in the first two games of the Finals not being Mrazek’s fault, the Hurricanes’ coach, Rod Brind’Amour, still made the decision to play McElhinney as the goalie in the third game. I’m not exactly disappointed by this decision for multiple reasons. First, McElhinney is equally as talented as Mrazek. Second, Mrazek might need some more time to recover fully from his injury, even though he has been approved to resume playing. Third, the other players may need a change in goalie to boost their morale after the brutal losses of the first two games. The strategy seems to have worked to a degree, as the third game was much closer than the first two, with a final score of two to one. However, I am afraid that this sudden goalie change halfway through the Finals round may be insulting to Mrazek, and I pray that fans will not criticize him for the recent losses, thus adding insult to injury.

Tuukka Rask is another reason why Mrazek and McElhinney are not responsible for the recent losses to the Bruins. Tuukka Rask is the Bruins’ goalie, and he is the closest a team could come to building a wall in front of the goal. During the 2018-2019 Playoffs season, Rask has faced 525 shots on goal, and he has only allowed 32 to slip past him. Thus, Rask has a save percentage of 93.9 percent with 982 minutes in goal (Source). Although I am partial to the Hurricanes, I must confess my respect for Tuukka Rask. Even if the Hurricanes’ offense was playing at peak performance, I don’t know that they would actually succeed in scoring many goals on Rask. After watching the first three games of the Finals round, all I can think is, “How much do the Hurricanes need to pay Tuukka Rask for him to join their team?"

Now, I talk a lot about the goalies of the two teams in the Eastern Conference Finals, but what about the other players? As I have said, the offensive and defensive players of the Hurricanes have made some sloppy mistakes recently, but some notable stars have shone in their positions during both the regular season and the Playoffs. Some of the offensive stars include Sebastian Aho, Warren Foegele, Brock McGinn, Jordan Staal, Andrei Svechnikov, Teuvo Teravainen, Lucas Wallmark and Justin Williams. Unfortunately, Justin Williams, the team captain, has recently instigated several acts of aggression and unsportsmanlike conduct, causing him to be sent to the penalty box, and thereby abandoning his team numerous times during the Finals round. I dearly hope that, for the sake of his team, he can conduct himself more appropriately in the next game. Some of the defensive stars include Calvin de Haan, Justin Faulk, Dougie Hamilton, Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin. Calvin de Haan was actually the player that scored the only point for the Hurricanes in the third game against the Bruins. Based on the number of names I have listed as stars, it can certainly be said that the Carolina Hurricanes have no lack of talent. However, the result of the Eastern Conference Finals depends on how the abundant talent of the Carolina Hurricanes can shape up against the equally abundant talent of the Boston Bruins. I hope that all Hurricanes fans, as well as anyone reading this article, will be watching the fourth game of the Eastern Conference Finals on Thursday night (May 16), and I hope that the Hurricanes are able to survive to see another game.

Watch game four on NBCSN at 8 o'clock on Thursday night!