A family tradition of attending the Apex Christmas parade (that seems to ALWAYS be on a Canes home game night) kept my family away from PNC Arena on Saturday night, but even the TV version was fun.
After yet another loss that was tough to swallow on Friday night against the Rangers and amidst a growing sense of urgency for the 2017-18 season as the rest of the Metropolitan Division gradually pulls away, the Hurricanes responded with a gritty win on Saturday night in Raleigh against the Florida Panthers.
The game seemed to be plucked right out of the early 1990s in terms of tension and tone. It was not full 1970s crazy in terms of volume of fights and general mayhem, but the game definitely took a different tone than a run of the mill 2017 game especially for a Hurricanes team that generally steers around the extracurricular rough stuff. There were enough actual fights and near fights to make the game feel like a 1992 second half of a back to back between two teams who were sputtering a bit and maybe feeling a bit salty because of it.
Coming out of the gate, the Hurricanes did absolutely everyone one could hope for except pile on goals. Cam Ward looked sharp controlling rebounds, looking sure-handed with his glove and just generally looking ready to go. The skaters in front of him were also good. The Hurricanes dictated play, tilted the ice and even piled up decent scoring chances. Even the power play looked solid. Despite not scoring on their first try with a man advantage, I counted five at least decent scoring chances. Finally on the third power play opportunity of the first period, the Hurricanes broke through when Sebastian Aho and Elias Lindholm worked a pretty give and go that ended with Lindholm squeaking the puck through a small hole in goalie James Reimer to finally be rewarded for what had been a dominant Hurricanes’ showing up until that point. Possibly stirred by a loss the night before, the Hurricanes’ intermittent net front presence was flipped back to ‘on.’ The team was engaged physically and even collected a fighting major along the way when Brock McGinn dropped the gloves with Jared McCann after a scuffle in front of the net. The period ended with the Hurricanes staked to a 1-0 lead but a bit of an ominous feeling entering the second period up only a single goal despite deserving much more.
Florida did push back in the second period and throughout the rest of the game, but Ward continued to play well, and the team in front of him avoided the burst of poor hockey that has reared its ugly head in many recent games. Even when Florida rose up, the Hurricanes were still a going concern in terms of desire, heart and intensity. Joakim Nordstrom absolutely leveled Vincent Trocheck along the boards which started one minor fracas. Jeff Skinner was in the middle of another one. And Noah Hanifin undertook his first NHL fight to boot.
Ward remained a calming influence even when Florida pushed back, and Jeff Skinner responded with a huge goal to pull back ahead when Florida tied the game early in the third period. But a second half surge by Florida’s top line netted two goals and pushed the game to the dreaded overtime where the Hurricanes were winless during the 2017-18 season.
As is often the case in overtime, the extra period was an adrenaline rush of absolute hockey fun. In a single shift early in overtime, the Hurricanes had good chances to win from Justin Faulk, Sebastian Aho and Victor Rask. After that the overtime featured runs of each team taking turns attacking. And just when the game seemed destined for a shootout, Elias Lindholm deftly spun to toward the middle of the ice with the puck and found Noah Hanifin who finished on his own rebound closing out the game with an exhilarating win.
Notes from the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 overtime win over the Florida Panthers
1) Solid night for veteran leadership
The biggest thing exiting the disappointing loss to the Rangers was Justin Williams’ post-game interview that saw him agitated and salty and with a “This is not good enough!” attitude.
I said in my game recap:
I think the Hurricanes need Williams’ dose and a few more of “This is just not good enough, and that isn’t okay” attitude. It’s not, “We just need to focus on the next game.” It’s not, “We didn’t catch any breaks” or “We faced a good goalie.” It’s just not good enough, and it’s just no acceptable.
Whereas I think the Hurricanes teams of recent years hit these rough patches and then quietly and slowly went about trying to right the ship perhaps without enough urgency or desperation. Saturday’s game looked like that of a desperate and angry team. Justin Williams made a point to go spend a bunch of time in front of the net early in the game. This is obviously just good practice in terms of trying to score goals, but I think more significantly it sent a message to a young team.
And on top of that, the team in general seemed to absorb some of Williams’ surly demeanor and displeasure from his interview less than 24 hours earlier. Brock McGinn and Noah Hanifin fought. Joakim Nordstrom delivered a huge hit and stirred the pot. Jeff Skinner got into a mini-scuffle that pulled in a few more players.
More generally, instead of quietly trying to sort things out during a down stretch, the team instead dialed up the level of adrenaline and intensity and scrapped and clawed for a better result. This was absolutely critical in winning the game, as despite the strong play early, the “win easily with a bunch of pretty scoring” formula that pops up occasionally was nowhere to be found on Saturday night.
No doubt Williams has made an impact prior in terms of raw scoring production and two-way play and leadership, but I think the 24-hour gap between Friday’s loss and Saturday’s win has the potential to change the mentality and approach in terms of the brand of hockey that the Hurricanes play.
Cam Ward was sound early despite limited work and despite allowing a goal that maybe he could have stopped, he gave the team the higher level of play in net that it needed. As significant as the total of the game was very simply the start. Coming after a run of games during which goaltending was not something to be trusted, Ward looked really share early suggesting that Saturday night would be different. And it was.
1c-Jeff Skinner scores a huge goal
Inability to hold a lead and close out the game kept Jeff Skinner’s pretty goal from being the game-winner, but it was a huge goal nonetheless. After a run of nine games without a goal, Skinner picked a good time reemerge on the score sheet.
2) Noah Hanifin
The offensive part of Noah Hanifin’s game continues its upward trajectory seemingly on a game by game basis. The overtime game-winner saw him step neatly into the right gap for Lindholm to fee and also great hands to deftly deposit his own rebound into the net while flying by.
Also, I would not be a fan of Noah Hanifin becoming too regular of a participant in fisticuffs, but as noted above, the team needed a spark and a way to jump start its game, and I do think that the physical play helped make sure everyone found the right intensity level.
3) Joakim Nordstrom
His hit on Trocheck was a big one and yet another individual contribution to finding a higher gear in terms of intensity and compete level playing in the second half of a back to back.
4) Elias Lindholm
He had a very productive game showing great hands finishing on a close range give and go to get the Hurricanes on the scoreboard first and then playing a big role in the game-winner spinning off the boards to create a passing lane to the middle and finding Hanifin for the game-winner.
I was (justifiably in my opinion) hard on Justin Faulk’s defensive play on Friday night, so being fair, it is important to give him credit for a better effort on Saturday. He was not perfect, but his game was more solid. In addition, he and his partner Haydn Fleury were #1 and #2 in terms of ice time and were not on the ice for a goal against.
Next up, the December road trip begins in earnest with a road game in Vancouver on Tuesday to kick things off.