With a HUGE overtime win in Raleigh on Tuesday night, the Hurricanes notched their first 3-game winning streak since the end of October and climbed a game above .500 for the first time since the end of the 2013-14 season.
More significantly, the Hurricanes gained 1 point on the Pens and 2 points on Ottawa and Philadelphia who did not play. As of writing this Tampa Bay and New Jersey are still playing.
As for the game, the first period was played pretty well defensively, was a little sloppy and saw the intensity build. A key early turning point was the Canes ability to kill 2 penalties early without much incident while they tried to get their feet under them and into the game. The second period was 1 of the best periods of hockey at PNC Arena this season. The intensity was high, and the pace was absolutely incredible. The Hurricanes scored the important first goal on a great individual effort by Elias Lindholm when he pushed the puck behind a Pens defenseman and then won a battle to keep it cleanly against both defensemen and a wandering forward. When he won it cleanly and moved it quickly to Versteeg’s stick the Pens had 3 players behind the net and 2 still on the way. The result was a quick tic-tac-toe passing play from Lindholm to Versteeg to a waiting Eric Staal who tapped it into an empty net. Then the Canes received a rare gift from the hockey gods when a fairly harmless Kris Versteeg shot was deflected off the end boards, up over the net, off Fleury’s back and in. The Pens of course roared back and ultimately tied the game scoring first on a blast from the point that beat Ward and then on a quick play after the Canes turned the puck over at its own blue line. That set the stage for more overtime excitement and ultimately Canes heroics. The Canes won a few face-offs early and mostly played with the puck but did not get much from it. Things turned when Jordan Staal drew a penalty to set the stage for the win. Playing 4-on-3 Justin Faulk fed Elias Lindholm who made a real heady play to set up the winner. From barely on top of the end line he pulled the puck out to where he could shoot which held Fleury to the post on his side and drew the defender. This opened a passing lane to Skinner on the other side for a quick pass through the seam and a nice finish by Skinner.
A few player and other notes:
1) Short bench => ‘Most’ nights for ice time for many
Playing with a short bench that saw limited minutes from 4 players, Tuesday featured season high minutes for Jaccob Slavin (25:59), Jordan Staal (22:55) and Andrej Nestrasil (20:49). Joakim Nordstrom played 18:18 which was his second highest ice time of the season. That group plus Ron Hainsey were tasked with playing against Malkin’s line all night. In 21:22 of ice time, Evgeni Malkin collected nothing for scoring plays. Elias Lindholm also logged his second highest ice time of the season at 21:20.
2) Jaccob Slavin
I am torn on whether I would give the first star to Elias Lindholm or Jaccob Slavin, but I think I would lean slightly toward Slavin simply because of his volume of ice time, the match up that Peters gave him and how incredibly well he played. (If someone wants to talk me into Lindholm, I am willing to listen.) What we are learning is that hockey is a young man’s game and that development schedules are sometimes more for lesser players.
Great players sometimes just rise up when they get the chance in ways that defy logical schedules.
3) Elias Lindholm
I think this was his best game in the 2015-16 season. He had a few times when Sidney Crosby shrugged him off like a kid including the penalty he took in the first period, but on a night when a mostly struggling lately Canes offense needed someone to step up and make a couple big plays, Lindholm had the answer. The Canes first goal came more from an individual effort by Lindholm to win a puck against 3 Penguins players and make a quick pass. The game-winner that I detailed above, the scoring chance (which was a nice finish by Skinner with a small opening from a tough angle) was created by Lindholm’s perfectly-timed ingenuity that stuck the goalie to the post on his side and opened the passing lane at the same time. I have been hard on Lindholm as recently as this morning in my midseason grades. Giving credit where it is due, Elias Lindholm had a huge positive impact on a very important win on Tuesday night.
4) Need for reinforcements soon
In an important game with no margin for error, the Canes saw 4 forwards get less than 10 minutes of ice time (Jay McClement (9:37), Riley Nash (7:49), Brock McGinn (9:45) and Brad Malone (7:22). I mostly agree with this decision. Victor Rask who returned from injury also played a below normal 12:51. At a minimum, the Canes need to get back to having 3 lines that can be played regularly. Here is hoping that either Phil DiGiuseppe or Nathan Gerbe returns soon and can get up to speed quickly and also that Victor Rask gets back to 100% quickly.
Next up is another back-to-back with a road game in St. Louis on Thursday followed by a home game in Raleigh on Friday against Vancouver.