Jaccob Slavin of the Carolina Hurricanes is a man who speaks with conviction and the defenseman did again Saturday, even as he averted his eyes as he spoke.
It was soon after the Canes had been beaten 5-2 by the New York Rangers in Game 6 of their Stanley Cup playoff series at Madison Square Garden. Slavin had showered and was suited up, ready to jump on the team bus, fly back to Raleigh and put it behind him.
“There’s no point in dwelling on this game when you’ve got a good opportunity in front of you in Game 7,” Slavin said in an interview outside the Carolina locker room. “Looking back at the Boston series, no one really talks about the fact we lost three on the road. You talk about the fact we won the series.”
The Canes lost all three road games against the Bruins in the first round of the playoffs, including a 5-2 beating in Game 6 in Boston, but bounced back for a solid 3-2 win in Game 7 at PNC Arena. But, in truth, there has been plenty of talk about the Canes being 7-0 at home but without a road win in the playoffs.
One sensed Slavin was particularly bothered by Saturday’s loss. He’s an alternate captain and a leader. He expects more of the team and himself. It also seemed as if a double-minor penalty for high-sticking that was called against him still galled him.
Slavin caught the Rangers’ Chris Kreider in the mouth while trying to play the puck at 3:55 of the third period and New York leading 4-2. The officials conferred for a few minutes before making the call, and Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said Slavin was as “adamant” as he has ever seen him about the decision.
Artemi Panarin’s power-play goal pushed the Rangers lead to 5-2.
Not that Slavin wanted to discuss the call at any length.
“He said it wasn’t a normal follow-through,” Slavin said. “It is what it is. It kills the momentum we had. We were trying to make the comeback there. Take a bad penalty like that and it stops our momentum and we don’t have a chance to come back.”
Slavin and the Canes wanted to end the series Saturday, begin turning their attention to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference finals. Instead, it’s another Game 7, always so unpredictable.
“Game 7 is a Game 7,” Slavin said. “It can go either way and it comes down to one game.
“We have to play our game. We have to make sure we’re doing the things we’ve done successfully all year to make us a good team.”
In the course of a record-breaking season, when the Canes won more games and had more points than any team in franchise history, they did so many things successfully.
Carolina had a good road record. It had the best penalty-killing team in the league. It allowed the fewest goals in the league.
Frederik Andersen played as well as any goaltender in the NHL for a long stretch of the regular season. Antti Raanta was a good complement in net, capable of taking over if Andersen faltered – or was injured.
Slavin was the 2021 Lady Byng Trophy winner for his gentlemanly play and dedication to hockey and is a Lady Byng finalist again this year. He logged more minutes per game than anyone on the Canes and did it with a bare minimum of penalties, specially stick infractions.
But the Canes haven’t been able to win on the road in the playoffs. Their penalty killing on the road has been spotty at best, and the Rangers scored twice on the power play Saturday.
Andersen’s status is still in doubt because of injury and he has not played a game since mid-April. Now, Raanta is coming off a game in which he was pulled in the second period.
And Slavin, the player who doesn’t take penalties, took a double minor for high-sticking.
“He obviously wasn’t trying to high-stick anybody, we know that. He was going for the puck,” Brind’Amour said. “Tonight was one of those nights nothing was going our way.
“You turn the page. The good news is we don’t have to end on that. We’ve got another shot here.”