I am completely spent after a really long week and then of course the draining in a good way Canes win.
My hope is to write a bit more of a recap and add some more thoughts lunchtime-ish on Friday, but here are a few quick hitters to at least open the post if anyone wants to chime in in the comments.
I have said repeatedly since the playoffs began that for the Canes to go deep in the playoffs two things must happen. First, the Canes top players will need to be better than opponents’ top players. Second, Sebastian Aho must be a Conn Smyth front-runner. With an epic playoff performance, Sebastian Aho covered both with an explanation point. While Nikital Kucherov was collecting a couple more minor penalties, Aho was collecting points. On his first goal, Aho actually posterized Kucherov who was a step slow. Aho’s power play assist on the game-winner came on a penalty taken by Kucherov. In another game that did not always offer much for time and space, Aho capitalized when given the chance and was the best player on the ice.
As I said on Twitter shortly after the game ended, Mrazek’s start was reminiscent of Kevin Weeke’s game 5 start against the New Jersey Devils in the first round of the 2002 NHL Playoffs. Paul Maurice made the choice to go with Weekes in a pivotal game 5 after losing two straight in New Jersey. Weekes played in both games in relief but had not started a game in about a month. When he led the team onto the ice at the start of the game, I remember thinking how the decision had the potential to go either way. He could be just the fresh spark the team needed, or he could look like he had not started a game in about a month. Weekes had all the answers including the overtime save on John Madden that I almost immediately dubbed the greatest save in Hurricanes history.
Mrazek entered the game having started only three games in the last six weeks. But just like Kevin Weekes, he had all the answers. His game also reminded me of game 1 versus Nashville in which Nedeljkovic struggled with but survived some issues with rebound control. Mrazek’s game on Thursday was a bit of a mess in that regard, but what impressed me was his intensity level and how he battled.
Brett Pesce had another huge game. It was another where the Hurricanes struggled multiple times to manage the puck and get it deep for line changes in the second period. The result was a couple more monster shifts where Pesce basically played two shifts without coming off. But even significantly past a full minute into a few shifts, Brett Pesce just kept making plays on the puck. Add in a huge first goal to get the Hurricanes started in the right direction, and Pesce put his stamp on a huge win just like Aho.
He made yet another heroic play to lead his team to victory continuing a tremendous season. I stand by my assertion from early in the season that when he was left behind in Chicago under the COVID protocol that he made a Robert Johnson-like deal with the devil in the shadows of some dark alley in the bowels of the city.
Would be curious to hear anyone else’s impressions of Thursday’s season-extending win in the comments.