In my game preview, I was looking for the Canes to bounce back after a disappointing effort and 5-1 loss at home to Columbus on Saturday. There was a component of Cam Ward standing on his head and the Canes weathering the storm, but at the end of the day, the Canes won on the road against a team that desperately needed a win to improve its 2015-16 playoff hopes.
The game had a tentative and tense start to it. The Bruins, desperately needing a win, seemed to be trying to to play their way up to speed, and the Canes did not muster much for scoring chances early. The disjointed first period that was the Canes take and survive 3 minor penalties and then get out of the period with a 1-0 lead when Jaccob Slavin fired a shot through traffic and right by Tuukka Rask. Cam Ward was good early and even better as the game wore on.
The Bruins pushed back in the second period. Despite playing 6 minutes shorthanded, the Bruins fired 16 shots on net in the second period but gained nothing on the scoreboard. The story was again Cam Ward stopping whatever came his way.
With pressure increasing on the Bruins, the Canes gave them the break that they needed early in the third period when a bad change saw Noah Hanifin heading to the bench with Ron Hainsey coming over the boards only after Loui Eriksson streaked by on the way to a 1-on-0 breakaway goal. The Canes responded after the goal, leaned on Cam Ward when necessary and pushed into overtime. In the usual frenetic overtime, Jaccob Slavin rang a shot off both posts early and Cam Ward made a couple spectacular saves.
Then against all odds, the Canes pulled through in a shootout despite 4 misses. After failed shootout attempts by Riley Nash, Victor Rask, Elias Lindholm and Sergey Tolchinsky and matching stops plus 1 by Cam Ward at the other end, Boston kid Noah Hanifin got his chance to be a hero at TD Garden in Boston. He coolly pulled the puck from his forehand to his backhand and roofed an unstoppable backhand up into the top of the net that was a spitting image of the Jaccob Slavin shootout winner awhile back.
As I said on Twitter right after the game-winner:
And with that dagger to the #Bruins playoff chances, Noah Hanifin becomes a Carolina kid.
A few player and other notes:
1) Cam Ward
He was easily the best player on the ice on Tuesday night. His 35 saves on 36 shots was the difference in a game that could easily have been a 2-1 or 3-1 loss. Even more impressive was the 5 for 5 in the shootout that has not been kind to Ward or the Canes.
2) Noah Hanifin
The thing that stands out to me on the shootout winner was how calmly he executed an incredibly difficult and skilled move. The goal had the look of a player who thrives in a chance to be a difference-maker. On a less exciting but maybe equally important note, Hanifin and partner Brett Pesce are gradually becoming more effective moving the puck together. This is important as it creates another option for Coach Bill Peters for 2016-17, and there is a decent chance that the 2 could play together.
3) Sergey Tolchinsky
Just like his first days as an unknown, undrafted prospect invited to the prospect camp a couple years back, Tolchinsky continues to be fun to watch. His creativity, vision and playmaking ability easily have NHL potential. He set up a point blank chance for Brett Pesce that would likely have been a goal had Pesce received it and got it off his stick cleanly. He had another play where he maneuvered and carried the puck the length of the ice and around the net before assessing passing options.
The challenge for Tolchinsky making the transition to the NHL will be threefold:
1-Knowing when to keep the puck and when not to. Tolchinksy is the pure version of a puck possession player who is comfortable playing with the puck on his stick and has a preference to keep it until he can either take or make a scoring chance. At a basic level, that is a good thing and exactly the mindset of a playmaker that the Canes lineup could really use. But at the NHL level, there is also an element of knowing when there really is not a great option, the risk is greater than the reward and the smart play is to play the puck forward to gain territorially and play the puck to a safer area versus risking a turnover in a bad place.
2-Penetrating the high danger scoring area. As fun as Tolchinsky’s was carrying the puck on Tuesday, the Bruins defense successfully pushed him wide of the face-off circles where any shots are generally easy pickings for NHL goalies and the defense can funnel the puck to the wall where it is easier to defend. There is value in gaining the offensive blue line with speed and control of the puck even if forced wide, but the better scoring chances come if Tolchinsky can sometimes get the puck inside of the face-off circles where Jeff Skinner thrives when he is playing well.
3-Defensive acumen and play without the puck. Especially for an undersized player, a key ingredient for success will be Tolchinsky’s play without the puck. He does not need to become a power forward. He does not need to be the best checking forward on the ice. But he does need to be adequate defensively such that his offense is not just and offset for what he is giving up. My early read on Tolchinsky’s defensive play from training camp was that he was willing to do the work and was decent positionally and in terms of awareness.
4) Elias Lindholm at center
Playing at center, Lindholm did not stand out as spectacular, but he did not stand out in a bad way either. As one would expect, he is capable of thinking the game positionally at center which was his natural position when he was drafted. I like the idea of adding flexibility in case of injuries, but I am not sure the current personnel allows Lindholm to play center. I do not see either Victor Rask or Jordan Staal as candidates to move from the center position. It would not make sense to push Lindholm down to a fourth line center slot. And I just think that the last center in the equation needs to bring the playmaking needed to score more goals. With a tiny sample size of Lindholm at center, it is impossible to say for certain what he is capable of, but from watching him at wing for a couple years, I envision him as being more of another 2-way center and less of the boost the team needs offensively.
5) A look at next year’s first pairing D?
With Justin Faulk rounding back into to form and paired with Jaccob Slavin who continues to play well, are we watching the Canes 2016-17 top defense pairing? Both players logged more than 24 minutes of ice time. That could be a regular event next season.
Next up for the Canes is the home finale on Thursday against Montreal.