The first of my three watch points in may game preview read:
1) Responding to a push back
Be it a fast start, more physical play, frustration and old school fisticuffs or a strong push at some point during the game, I would expect Tampa Bay to push back hard at some point in this game. Regardless of what form it takes possibly being multiple, I will be watching to see how the Hurricanes respond.
That very much was the story of Monday’s game between the Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning. After a couple days probably mostly locked away in hotel rooms to mull over a second consecutive shutout loss the Hurricanes, the Lightning came out like their hair was on fire. They were fast and aggressive from the opening puck drop and pretty much throughout the first period. But a bit of desperation and a number of scrambling James Reimer saves kept Tampa Bay from scoring first as they deserved. Instead, it was Jesper Fast collecting a power play goal. Fast has incredibly consistently been creating problems for opposing goalies at the top of the crease and was finally rewarded for it with a goal. At that point, the Hurricanes had been outplayed by a wide margin but had a 1-0 lead. The first period would end with the Lightning having a decided advantage in terms of controlling play, scoring chances and just about everything else but still down 1-0 on the scoreboard.
But the Lightning did not deviate from their strong play. The Hurricanes did find a higher gear in the second period and shrink the gap in level of play, but the Lightning were still the better team for the majority of the game. In that second period, Steven Stamkos beat Reimer short side on the power play 2:26 into the period. Then Victor Hedman did the same from a similar angle this time at even strength to stake the Lightning to a 2-1 lead. But Jesper Fast would strike again from the top of the crease finishing a Pesce shot to tie the game at 2-2 with only 45 seconds remaining in the second period.
At that point, the Hurricanes seemed to be primed to ride a couple good plays to another win in a less than perfect game. But this time the hockey gods stepped in and awarded results that were righteous. When Brady Skjei lost track of him and the puck in front of the net, Ondrej Palat scored off of Skjei’s skate 8:04 into the third period to push the Lightning up 3-2. An empty-netter would seal the deal at 4-2.
On the positive side, the Hurricanes were not on top of their game but still managed to hang around and have a chance to force overtime late against a good hockey team having a strong game. As far as lows go, that is far from an abyss especially after an impressive winning streak.
Player and other notes
1) James Reimer
His game was oddly mixed. He played his best period in awhile in keeping the Hurricanes in the game early with a couple big saves in the first period. The start was such that Tampa Bay could easily have been up a couple goals at the end of the first period, but instead it was the Canes 1-0. In the second period, he was beaten twice by good players on good shots which is hardly unforgivable, but I guess what gives me pause is that in both instances, he gave them net to shoot at short side instead of forcing them to make a more difficult shot. And sure enough they exploited the opening. The third goal against was a scramble that saw the puck go off a defenseman’s skate and in, so there is really not much he could have done there. In total, I give Reimer a plus for Monday’s effort despite the loss, but it still seems like the potential for better and stealing an overtime or more by doing so was there.
2) Jake Bean
In five games since returning the the lineup, Jake Bean now has five assists. What is most noticeable about his game right now is his play in the offensive zone. He continues to make both simple and more creative plays with the puck on his stick. Combined with a modest number (not zero but modest) of issues with puck management in his own end, he has been a positive. I am gladly starting to consider my options for condiments in our pantry for hopefully eating crow on a prospect that I have never been incredibly high on at least relative to his draft pedigree. The idea of pairing him with Jake Gardiner and letting them run a bit is intriguing. Gardiner has been incredibly good at advancing the puck out of the defensive zone and is the best on the time at finding and exploiting passing lanes for stretch passes. Bean is still a bit in the mode of just making simple plays advancing the puck out of his own end. If both can continue being adequate or better defensively and mesh in terms of moving the puck, the Canes could have an interesting pairing in general but especially for late in games when down on the scoreboard.
3) Jesper Fast
If giving three stars only for Hurricanes players, Jesper Fast definitely had a first star game with his two goals. Especially on the second power play unit, he has been incredibly consistent at going to the front of the net and making things difficult for opposing goalies. It was great to see him finally get rewarded for it.
4) Brady Skjei
Skjei had a tough game. He seemed to be right in the middle of too many Hurricanes messes both big and small. The most damaging was the Lightning game-winner but there were multiple others on a night when Skjei has four giveaways and managed a minus 2. It will be interesting to see if this triggers continuation of Brind’Amour’s blue line rotation with Skjei out and Gardiner back in. Skjei was maybe the unfortunate leader, but in total the Hurricanes had 20 giveaways to only 8 by Tampa Bay which is why they seemed to spend too much time having to chase the puck.
5) Losing best against best
My third watch point from my preview finished with:
3) Best against best
On Monday, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes top players can repeat a strong performance and again be better than a strong group of opponents.
At a high level, that maybe was as much the story of this game. The Hurricanes top players at both forward and defense were not great, were all minus players and were outplayed by the Lightning’s top players.
6) Is the best yet to come?
Aside from the bits and bites of scoring and the hockey game, another thing that stood out was the level of animosity. After being shut out for the second straight time, the Lightning came out with a bee in their bonnet. The game was more spirited and testy than either of the first two. Most noticeable was Andrei Svechniko and Erik Cernak going after each other seemingly every shift, but the testiness seemed to permeate the entire game. With two games yet to go, is the best in this series yet to come with the intensity level ratcheting up.
Next up the series moves to Tampa with a 5pm start on Wednesday.