Ugh. That game is some bizarre combination of impressive and heartbreaking at the same time. #TakeWarning
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) January 11, 2019
At least in terms of a personal reaction immediately following the game, I think that sums it up for me.
Facing a huge challenge on the road against the NHL’s best team, the Hurricanes started strong and generally played well throughout but shot themselves in the foot a bit late and that was arguably the difference in a 2-1 loss.
The Hurricanes started on time and carried the first period. To a man, the Hurricanes competed for every puck. The result was a first period that saw the Hurricanes dictate play. The Lightning team that has largely been an offensive juggernaut this season, had trouble getting the puck out of its own end and through the neutral zone. The Lightning managed a shot on net early and then nothing for a long time before finishing the first period with only three shots on net. Though the records for the season are reversed, the Hurricanes were by far the better team in the first period. But despite the strong first period, the teams were tied at 0-0 after one period.
Early in the second period, the Hurricanes were finally rewarded when Justin Williams scored on a rebound off the rush on a heady Dougie Hamilton shot aimed at creating exactly the rebound that it did. In total, the second period was more even, but the Hurricanes still earned high marks for again playing 20 minutes with an incredibly high compete level. Even once the Lightning got their feet under them and started to push, the Hurricanes matched them and played them even. For the second game in a row, the Hurricanes won a coach’s challenge on an offside to take an opponent’s goal off the score board. That combined with continued strong play by the Canes skaters and flawless play by Mrazek saw the Hurricanes emerge from the second period still with a 1-0 lead.
Entering the third period, one had to figure the Lightning would push again and that ultimately it would take more than a single goal to beat the Lightning. That unfortunately was true. The Lightning did push in the third period, and the Hurricanes one weakness on the night continued to rear its head. After tempting fate with four minor penalties through two periods, the Hurricanes took two more in the final ten minutes of the game while still clinging to a 1-0 lead. First, Svechnikov had his second stick infraction of the game. The Lightning capitalized and tied the game on a bit of a broken passing play that led to a close range finish. Then Greg McKegg took a retaliation penalty after a hard and high check on the boards. The Lightning again capitalized to take a 2-1 lead with only 3:15 remaining in the game. An empty-netter would seal the deal and convert a generally strong effort by the Hurricanes into a regulation loss and nothing gained in terms of points.
It is critical that the Hurricanes quickly put this game behind them and rebound on Friday against the Sabres who are one of the teams at the playoff cut line.
Player and other notes
1) Petr Mrazek
Goaltending was again a positive. Petr Mrazek did not see much work in the first half of the game. Combine little work with the Hurricanes clinging to a one-goal lead, and Mrazek was under pressure with no margin for error. He was flawless just as he needed to be through two periods. The first goal he was allowed was from point blank on a broken passing play, so he really had no chance. Then he was beaten once by a laser from Brayden Point. Just one more save on that Point goal would have been spectacular, but Mrazek really did his part to give his team a chance to at least get to overtime.
2) Team level compete
The game was impressive in terms of competitiveness. The Hurricanes dominated early based largely on just outworking Tampa Bay and playing fast and aggressive to the puck. Though the Lightning did start to match the Canes as the game wore on, the Canes still deserve credit for putting forward a solid 60 minutes in terms of effort level. All 12 forwards played more than 10 minutes and only Aho and Teravainen played significantly more on a night when ice time was pretty balanced.
3) Justin Williams
He continues to have a knack for stepping up when his team really needs a goal. Converting the strong first period to a lead was important, and Williams did exactly that.
4) Andrei Svechnikov
He really needs to retrain himself to defend with his stick on the ice. His volume of unnecessary stick infractions is too much and was costly in Thursday’s loss. Mostly, he is picking up borderline calls. To me, it looks as if he is trying to cheat just a tiny bit and get away with it. The issue is that he is not getting away with it in an NHL where getting a stick parallel to the ice while defending has a reasonable probability of netting a penalty.
5) Greg McKegg
After his two huge efforts in Canes wins, it is fairly easy to forgive him, but his penalty in a tie game with less than four minutes left was inexcusable. Yes, he was hit high and that could have but did not draw a penalty, but he simply cannot retaliate there and risk what ultimately happened.
6) The blue line in total
At even strength the team defense was solid and the blue line was solid. Despite the fact that the Hurricanes were shutting out the powerful Lightning, the story was not one of Mrazek standing on his head. Rather, the Canes did a pretty decent job at even strength of limiting the Lightning.
Next up is a quick turnaround and a huge weekend at home with Jeff Skinner’s return with Buffalo on Friday and a Sunday afternoon match up against Nashville.