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It has all gone so wrong for the Hurricanes, so quickly

Carolina Hurricanes dominated by Boston Bruins in Game 2

Check out photos as the Carolina Hurricanes battle the Boston Bruins in game two of the Stanley Cup playoffs Sunday, May 12, 2019.
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Check out photos as the Carolina Hurricanes battle the Boston Bruins in game two of the Stanley Cup playoffs Sunday, May 12, 2019.

People talk about pushing the panic button like it’s always a bad thing. When things are desperate but not quite dire, there’s a lot to be said for staying the course, pushing a little harder, renovating instead of demolishing.

Then there are those moments when there aren’t any other options, when desperation leaves you no way out. This isn’t poker, where you can fold and live to play another day. The Carolina Hurricanes are running out of tomorrows.

The even-keel Hurricanes need to find the panic button and push it, because this isn’t working. Their best defenseman is getting turned inside-out, their captain lost his cool, their goalie is giving up short-side leakers, every time they end up in the penalty box they don’t end up staying there very long and their power-play is a Superfund site.

“Sometimes you got to eat a poop sandwich,” Hurricanes captain Justin Williams said. “It doesn’t taste good and you have to chew on it for a little bit and we’ll have to do it for a couple days and get the taste out of our mouth next game.”

It’s all gone so wrong, so fast, and whether they lost their edge during the layoff between series or just ran into a bigger, better team, the tables have turned against them in a very serious way that even the energy and ebullience of their home crowd isn’t easily going to fix. Sunday’s 6-2 loss to the Boston Bruins was essentially over minutes into the second period, and the Eastern Conference finals are slipping away as quickly after losing both games in Boston.

If there was a moment that summed things up, it wasn’t Matt Grzelcyk’s shot going through Petr Mrazek’s right armpit, as bad as that was. It was David Pastrnak turning Jaccob Slavin inside out on a rush down the right wing. Slavin usually comes out of those moments leading a rush the other way while, say, Connor McDavid looks around trying to figure out what the heck happened to the puck. This time, it was Slavin looking around baffled, left spinning awkwardly just inside the blue line.

Everyone, even Slavin, is adrift, and the Bruins scored 10 straight goals before the Hurricanes picked up a couple consolation scores in the third.

“We’ve got to find our game,” Hurricanes center Jordan Staal said, “and stop making excuses for ourselves.”

Carolina Hurricanes' Jordan Staal addresses the media following the Hurricanes' 6-2 loss to the Boston Bruins

Meanwhile, if the Bruins were trying to rattle Williams, it worked. Zdeno Chara got away with a punch to his face in the first game, Brad Marchand a high-stick clothesline in this one, and Williams ended up in the penalty box for two of the Bruins’ goals.

The Hurricanes tried to play physical and beat the Bruins at their own game, but never got to their own. They lost the special-teams battle, lost the goaltending battle, lost all the 50-50 battles and are on their way to losing the war.

There is very little in common with the first two games of the first round, when the Hurricanes could point to any number of ways they outplayed the Washington Capitals, undone by power plays and an overtime goal by Brooks Orpik, of all people. That deficit meant little and did little to dent the Hurricanes’ confidence, as subsequent events would demonstrate.

“It feels a lot different,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “The quality’s been better, that we’re giving up. That’s not a good sign. We have to regroup. But the other night wasn’t as bad, we were right in the game, and we have to remember that.”

Still, for the first time in these playoffs, even in the Game 5 disaster in Washington, the Hurricanes look bereft of confidence. Out of sorts. Lost.

Anything and everything should be in play before Game 3 on Tuesday, starting with Curtis McElhinney in net – and he probably should have been in this game to start the third period, and maybe even to start the second.

Whatever Brind’Amour has ruled out before, it should all be under consideration now. Whatever would qualify in his mind as the panic button, go ahead and hit it. Why not?

Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour talks with the media following the Hurricanes' 6-2 loss

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Sports columnist Luke DeCock has covered the Summer Olympics, the Final Four, the Super Bowl and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup. He joined The News & Observer in 2000 to cover the Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a columnist in 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and has won multiple national and state awards for his columns and feature writing while twice being named North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year.