Before the 4-game stretch run leading up to the all-star break started, I said that a 2-1-1 record would be a pretty solid finish and should be enough to at least maintain the Canes position in the standings heading into the break. I also declared the Maple Leafs game as very important with a tough Rangers game looming. And after those 2 split 1-1 maybe as expected, I declared the Flames game today as another important winnable game with the Black Hawks looming on Tuesday. So far so good. With a 5-2 win against the Flames on Sunday in the relative anonymity of PNC Arena while many in North Carolina watched the Panthers advance to the Superbowl, the Canes pushed to 2-1 with only 1 of the final 4 games before the break to go.
There were 2 significant differences between Friday’s 5-1 thrashing by the Rangers and Sunday’s 5-2 over the Flames. First was the level and style of competition. The Flames are a pretty good young hockey team as demonstrated by their playoff appearance last season, but they just are not in the same category as the Rangers especially for the Hurricanes who are under a Rangers’ curse right now. Second was that the Canes were able to match a higher pace with a day’s rest.
In many ways the game was not that much different or better. The first period featured 2 Justin Faulk defensive zone turnovers of the minor variety, a John-Michael Liles pass intercepted in the neutral zone and brought quickly into the zone and a Michal Jordan misplay in front of his own net that saw a Flames player in alone on Lack. Lack was phenomenal early and lucky when that was not quite enough. With a little bit of opportunistic scoring provided by an individual effort by Victor Rask and a penalty shot finish by Elias Lindholm, the Canes stormed out to a 2-0 lead by the end of the first period. After a Kris Versteeg goal off of a nice pass by Eric Staal on a 2-on-1 sprung by a long pass by Ron Hainsey, it looked like it would be an easy night. Then the Canes did all they could to make it a hockey game when a pass found its way through Faulk’s legs for a front of the net bang in and Calgary notched a second goal. Eddie Lack against stood tall when the game was at 3-2 and held it there until consecutive goals just past the midway point of the third period by Kris Versteeg and Joakim Nordstrom sealed the deal.
With 5 penalties and the aforementioned turnovers plus more, the game was far from being a return to cleaner play, but the Canes competed hard, were opportunistic and in end good enough to win. That is what it is about right now – getting points in the standings and trying to stay within reach of the pack.
A few players notes:
He is quietly playing some of his best hockey right now. In recent games that have featured to many mistakes on the blue line, he has been steadier than the group. In addition, he made a nice stretch pass on the tape of a streaking Eric Staal to set up a 2-on-1 that ended with Kris Versteeg’s first goal.
Whereas I thought he was the good version of serviceable after a long layoff in his first couple games back in the lineup, he struggled on Sunday. He looked to be in over his head in a fast-paced game. He had the bad turnover mentioned above, picked up 2 minor penalties and was mostly stapled to the bench for the third period because of it. He finished with a limited 10:31 of ice time on a tough night.
That first goal
Victor Rask did not especially stand out throughout the game, but for a team struggling to score of late, getting on the board first early in the game was huge. It was pretty much an individual effort when he stole a puck just inside the offensive blue line, walked around the Flames player near him, wove his way across to between the circles and ripped a shot past the goalie. Once that first goal goes in, the pressure comes off a little and sure enough the Canes had an easier time tonight once the lid was off against a mediocre defensive team.
He was the story of the game in another Canes win. Lately, if the team gives him any kind of chance, he is winning hockey games. Funny for me was the second intermission interview in which goalie coach David Marcoux talked about Lack’s depth being good and then 20 seconds later the broadcast showing Lack’s best saves from the game that never saw him get outside the blue paint of the crease. Regardless, this 5-2 win was not at all that of a sound and solid defensive effort by the Canes skaters. Lack was really good and probably the best player on the ice.
Good things happen when you go to places where goals happen. First, he finished a nifty cross ice pass from Eric Staal into half of an open net on a 2-on-1. Then he hacked in a loose puck from in close to make it a 2-goal night.
To get to the 2-1-1 that I hoped for starting this final stretch, the Canes need to at least get to overtime against Chicago on Tuesday. If the team is going to get that far, why not just pick up the other point to finish 3-1?