Hurricanes push their own season to the precipice with a parade to the penalty box

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There’s no point in blaming the officials or Petr Mrazek or Dougie Hamilton or Jake Bean or any of the obvious if insufficient suspects.

This was a team loss, a collective failure of discipline, that pushed the Carolina Hurricanes to the brink of elimination in a game where they did everything else they needed to win.

If there was one thing the Hurricanes could control, that was entirely within their grasp, it was not putting themselves in a position where penalties could be called against them, giving the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 1.21 gigawatt power play a chance to go to work.

Certainly, they couldn’t do it six times -- 6, seis, seize -- and get away with it.

They most certainly did not.

So the Hurricanes now stare the end of their season squarely in the eyes on Tuesday after Saturday’s whiplash-inducing 6-4 loss. They need only look in the mirror if they wonder how they got there having staked out a two-goal lead in the middle of a wild second period before successfully self-sabotaging themselves with a parade to the penalty box.

“We had the momentum,” Hurricanes forward Jesper Fast said. “It went pretty quick there when they scored three straight goals. It’s tough but we’ve got to find a way to bounce back and unfortunately today we didn’t.”

Even if Tampa got away with an infraction or two, even if the penalty on Jordan Martinook in particular was light, that’s just dancing around the margins. The others -- including two in the offensive zone by Andrei Svechnikov, an infuriating habit that has become a crippling indulgence -- were penalties, by the spirit and the letter of the law.

The rest of it? There’s not much they can do about Andrei Vasilevskiy -- who finally blinked Saturday -- or the rest of the Lightning but play an honest game and hope for the best. That’s hockey. The better team usually, but not always, wins.

But if there’s one critical and cardinal advantage Tampa Bay has in this series, it’s a power play that clicked along at 40% in the first round, scoring eight goals in only six games and is now 5-for-11 in the four games of this series. The Hurricanes can’t compete with that. No one can.

“We took some bad penalties tonight,” Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin said. “If you give that caliber of power play that many chances it’s not a recipe for success. We’ve just got to stay more disciplined and play hard, but play smart as well and not give them chances they don’t need.”

The Bolts may not be the 1956 Montreal Canadiens -- the team that prompted the rule change that penalized players no longer had to serve the full two minutes no matter how many times the opposition scored -- but the man advantage is their trump card. The only way to win that game is not to play at all.

So what did the Hurricanes do, in the midst of that four-goal second period of their own?

Took four penalties. The Lightning scored on three of them and needed only 142 seconds to do it.

“That’s the game in a nutshell,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “Cut it any way you want. We can’t take six penalties.”

By the time the second period was over, the Hurricanes had gone from two up to one down and Mrazek -- so good in Game 3 and to start Game 4 -- was lunging at shadows. He certainly did on Tampa’s sixth goal from Nikita Kucherov that put the game away, after Bean was pick-pocketed at the offensive blue line.

So it’ll almost certainly be Alex Nedeljkovic in Game 5, out of desperation as much as necessity, the yawning precipice now all too close.

Their backs will be against the wall. Their butts can’t be in the box.

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