SUNRISE, Fla. — The Carolina Hurricanes are on the ropes after dropping Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Florida Panthers 1-0 on Monday.
A sensational 32-save performance from Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky — in the first postseason shutout of his career — did most of the damage in Carolina’s loss, which put the Hurricanes in a 3-0 hole. Still, the defeat didn’t come without some controversy.
The Hurricanes trailed 1-0 late in the third period when forward Sam Reinhart — who scored the game’s only goal on a second-period power play — appeared to high stick Carolina defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere in the face. That was right before Panthers defenseman Marc Staal put a puck in Carolina’s empty net that would have given the Panthers a 2-0 lead with less than two minutes remaining in regulation.
Upon review, it was judged that a whistle blew before Staal’s shot entered the net, but there was no penalty assessed on Reinhart for the play on Gostisbehere. Play continued, and Carolina ultimately recorded its third straight loss.
Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said after the game he wasn’t thrilled with the lack of a call going in Carolina’s favor.
“It’s tough for me. I could go on all day on that,” he said. “We got [called for] three knickknack penalties on sticks to the hand. … Especially when they stop the play [after Gostisbehere was hit]. I don’t understand that. You stop it because you saw a high stick. Why are you stopping the play then? I don’t know. No explanation, just move on.”
That’s all the Hurricanes can do. Brind’Amour lamented that Carolina didn’t convert its lone power play of the game, and its general struggles scoring on Bobrovsky in the series. Through three games, Hurricanes forwards have failed to produce one even-strength goal, and Carolina has been outscored 6-3.
“How are you not frustrated?” Brind’Amour said. “There’s times when you lose and you’re frustrated because you got beat, but if feels like we’re losing but we’re not really getting beat, and that’s where it gets frustrating.”
Florida has now won 10 of its past 11 playoff games and can advance to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup Final since 1996 with a win over Carolina in Game 4 on Wednesday.
The Panthers came through with Monday’s victory despite being short-handed. Captain Aleksander Barkov left with 7:04 to play in the first period after what looked like an innocuous hip check from Hurricanes forward Jack Drury. He was ruled questionable to return with a lower-body injury.
Florida coach Paul Maurice provided no update on Barkov’s status after the game.
Losing Barkov would pose a challenge. The team’s top center had four goals and 12 points in 14 postseason tilts before Game 3. The All-Star is also one of the Panthers’ best faceoff forwards. He had two goals and an assist in the first two games against Carolina.
In Barkov’s absence, Eetu Luostarinen moved up to center Florida’s top line. The Panthers had trouble generating much offense in the second and third periods, putting only 17 shots total — and seven through the final 40 minutes — on Carolina netminder Frederik Andersen and going 1-for-4 on their power-play chances.
If Bobrovsky continues to stone Carolina the way he has, though, it might not matter how the Panthers line up offensively. Bobrovsky has a .978 save percentage in the series thus far, and it will take a full team effort from Carolina in Game 4 on Wednesday to stay alive and take the matchup back to the Canes’ home ice.
“It’s been three games,” Brind’Amour said. “You can’t do much more. We like how we’re playing, clearly. It’s just we’ve got to find a way to put one in.”