Category 5: P is for Pyotr; Hurricanes’ Stepan eyes possible return in Game 4

Hurricanes forward Andrei Svechnikov, left, assists fellow Russian Pyotr Kochetkov and the media by translating questions and answers for the rookie goalie on Saturday at the team’s hotel in Boston. (Cory Lavalette / North State Journal)

BOSTON — The Hurricanes will play a Game 4 matinee Sunday and hope to leave Boston one game away from eliminating the Bruins and advancing to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Let’s dive right into it.

1. No, Pyotr Kochetkov isn’t a Pittsburgh Pirates fan. His gray baseball cap emblazoned with the MLB team’s white logo has a much simpler explanation.

“P,” the 22-year-old rookie Russian goalie said while pointing to his hat during his first media availability on Saturday’s off day between Games 3 and 4 in Boston. “Pyotr.”

Just like his choice in ball caps, Kochetkov is trying to keep things simple during his crash course in being an NHL goalie.

“It’s a new step to come here in North America,” Kochetkov said through his de facto interpreter, Andrei Svechnikov. “It’s a new challenge for me.”

Keeping it simple has been hard in quite a few ways, however.

“Speak English,” he said, on his own, was among his troubles.

“Traffic,” he added, presumably talking about the type you find in front of an NHL net and not the kind on the Beltline.

Then Svechnikov translated one more tidbit.

“Catch the puck.”

The rookie has done a good job at stopping the puck in his first five NHL appearances. And despite dropping his first game in Friday’s 4-2 Game 3 loss in Boston, he was all smiles and laughs Saturday.

“To be in the NHL, it’s my biggest dream,” he said via Svechnikov. “Just to be around the NHL guys, it’s a dream.”

He’s also been lucky to have Svechnikov, who is about nine months younger than Kochetkov but has served as his big brother in the opening weeks of his NHL journey.

“My friend,” Kochetkov said with a big smile.

“He said without me,” Svechnikov added, “he’d be still in the airport.”

Svechnikov has also embraced his new role as translator and guide to NHL life.

“It’s very easy,” Svechnikov said, “especially when you’ve got Pyotr. He’s a great guy. And it’s actually easy — like to translate right now, it’s funny and I’m having fun right now.

“I was talking with someone yesterday, and it reminds me when I came to North America and didn’t speak English. It was pretty hard. So I do my best for him.”

2. Coach Rod Brind’Amour didn’t commit to a starting goalie for Sunday’s Game 4. Antti Raanta, who backed up Friday and “could have played” despite being dinged up, worked on the ice again Saturday with the players who didn’t play in Game 3.

“We’re gonna see how Rants does today,” Brind’Amour said. “He’s going out there right now. So (we’ll) kind of reassess everything once everybody comes back.”

Brind’Amour is confident in Kochetkov if he decides to go back to the rookie for Game 4.

“He definitely is not nervous,” Brind’Amour said. “The moment hasn’t been too big for him. I think he’s done well, and obviously we’re asking a lot out of him — a ton out of him. And I think he’s been really solid.”

3. The other decision Brind’Amour will have to make is who will play for Jordan Martinook, who was injured after getting tangled up with Taylor Hall in Game 3. Brind’Amour has used the same lineup among his skaters through three games, and defenseman Ethan Bear along with forwards Steven Lorentz and Derek Stepan have been healthy scratches.

“We’ve talked about everything,” Brind’Amour said. “We only have two other options. It’s not like there’s a ton of options. But I think it’s tough. Our D has played really well — that’s certainly not an issue back there.

“Whether Lorrie or Stepper come in, someone has to come in for the one injury. Do we make another switch? That’s the stuff that we’re kind of debating, but I haven’t made that decision.”

4. Stepan is certainly itching to get back in if he gets the call after closing the regular season with points in his last three games.

“It’s probably not an ideal situation,” Stepan said of jumping into the series after not playing the first three games, “but it’s an opportunity for me and I’m looking forward to it. I’m excited. I’m ready to play and I’m champing at the bit.”

Stepan has been praised by Brind’Amour for his professionalism after he was in and out of the lineup, playing 58 games this season. Stepan suggested he has maybe put on a brave face.

“He’s being nice,” Stepan said of Brind’Amour’s compliment. “I’ve handled it as best as I could. I think it’s never easy, but the situation — it was what it was. And when I was in the lineup, I felt like I was playing well, so that was all I could control.

“And that was kind of the message that Roddy kept bringing to me. It’s just continue to control that, and it was definitely something that I had to learn some techniques to kind of keep myself mentally in a good spot. Nothing’s changed and here we are again. Hopefully I get the chance.”

Stepan last played in the playoffs in the 2020 NHL bubble with Arizona, registering a goal and an assist in the Coyotes’ 4-1 series loss to Colorado.

But he hasn’t tasted the postseason with fans in a while. If he plays Sunday, it will be one day shy of five years since he last played in a playoff game in a packed building, when his Rangers lost at home in Game 6 of the second round of the 2017 playoffs to Ottawa.

“It’s mostly excitement for me, and I’m looking forward to having some fun.”

In 106 career playoff games, Stepan has 20 goals and 34 assists for 54 points. He’s one of five players on the Hurricanes who have previously played in a Stanley Cup Final, coming two wins shy of winning a title when the Rangers lost to Los Angeles in Game 6 on defenseman Alec Martinez’s double-overtime goal. Stepan played 31:40 for that game, the most of any New York forward.

Stepan, at age 31, says the fire to win a Cup hasn’t burned any brighter from when he was a younger player.

“I don’t think it’s changed at all,” he said of his desire to be crowned a champion. “I just think it’s just one of those things where you only get so many opportunities to have a chance at it to begin with, and you don’t take it for granted. But I don’t think it’s changed.

“I think the want has always been there from Day 1, and the drive is always there. It hasn’t changed as I’ve gotten older. It’s the same that it was my first few years.”

5. The magic number for the Hurricanes on Sunday: 30

When Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman has faced 30 or more shots in a game this season, he’s 5-6-2. In the 28 games he faced fewer than 30 shots, he’s 18-8-1. That doesn’t mean the rookie is incapable of a big performance. He stopped more than 34 shots in a game three times this season, all wins. Two of them were shutouts, including a 42-save effort at Nashville in early December.

The Hurricanes had 86 shots on goal in the first three games of the series, a 28.7 shots per game average that is more than five shots lower than their 34.1 regular season average. The Bruins have outshot Carolina in three consecutive games, something that happened to the Hurricanes just twice this season.

Most of the Bruins shot generation has come from their big guns. David Pastrnak and Patrice Bergeron have combined for 35 of Boston’s 102 shots — a whopping 34.3%.

No one on Carolina has more shots on goal than nine, with both Sebastian Aho and Svechnikov at that amount.