Right from when the NHL schedule was released, the Canes match up on Sunday in Chicago looked ominous. The Blackhawks are obviously the Stanley Cup champions and had the added benefit of resting yesterday while the Canes played and traveled.
Very often games like this go awry out of the gate. In these cases, it is not completely unfair to just chalk it up to a tough night and the NHL schedule monkey. But in the NHL anything can happen on any given night. And coming off a 5-day layoff since before the break the Blackhawks were sluggish and sloppy especially early and left the door cracked open for the Hurricanes. Too often, the Hurricanes fail to capitalize on these situations when they catch a good team on a night when it is beatable. The general formula for frustration is that the Canes do get the better of things in terms of shots and possession, but ultimately get beaten by a confident and opportunistic team that capitalizes on a couple openings and leaves the Canes with a loss despite arguably deserving better. After a 0-0 push through about half of the game, the script seemed to be written for a couple quick Chicago strikes and a Hurricanes loss. But instead it was Canes leader Justin Faulk who struck first with a nice shot that used a Hawks defender as a screen. When Victor Rask scored the second goal of the game on a nice shot and with help from a Phil Di Giuseppe screen, the Canes were in the driver’s seat. The Blackhawks did push back some in the third period and Corey Crawford did all he could to give his team a chance, but the Canes held on and gave up only an inconsequential goal with 3 seconds left.
In both of my game preview posts this weekend, I have chirped about now being the time to test for the Canes leadership and also a last chance to make a push to claw into the 2015-16 season. The Canes have answered the call following the leadership of Justin Faulk who has 2 game-winning goals and 3 points in the 2 wins to go with solid defensive play.
The win makes for a solid 2-1 week and puts the ball on the tee for the Canes to go for consecutive winning weeks.
A few player notes:
1) Justin Faulk rising
He has led the way in consecutive wins and continues to be the leader for the team. His defensive game has improved since I was critical in this post on December 4.
2) Brett Pesce as Robin
Brett Pesce has quietly become the second most dangerous Canes blue liner. He had another point and has started to step into the offense more and find shooting lanes inside the offensive zone. He has 2 points in the 2 post-break wins and 6 points in the last 8 games and is now tied for second to Faulk in Canes defenseman scoring despite playing 5-8 fewer games than the players who have been in the NHL all season.
3) Victor Rask/Phil Di Giuseppe
Rask’s goal to put the Canes up 2 was huge obviously. The Blackhawks were mustering at least sporadic pressure, and Corey Crawford was playing well and seemingly on track to hold the fort long enough for his team to score. As is often the case when a goalie playing well is beaten, Di Giuseppe took away Crawford’s vision and sure enough Rask’s shot zipped right past him. I would like to think that the Canes could have either held at 1-0 or added another but am glad that we did not have to try that.
4) Eddie Lack
He came within 3 seconds of a shutout and got a win on the road in Chicago. The headline and result are incredibly good. He also made some good saves to earn it. But the volume of scrambling continues to leave me uncomfortable and the last goal harkened back to other struggles this season. The positive is that a win is a win especially in the second half of a back-to-back and this was definitely better than the 5-4 variety.
Next up is a Tuesday reamatch against the New Jersey Devils after beating them on Saturday.