No doubt the details of the Hurricanes 6-3 win over the #1 team in the Western Conference, but before jumping to those details below, I wanted to first point out two more subtle but significant things about the Canes win on Sunday and the recent trend in general.
1–The Hurricanes beat a good team on Sunday by outplaying them. They did catch a few breaks with a couple odd carom type goals, but make no mistake that the Hurricanes were the better of the two teams on the ice on Sunday afternoon. That has been the case in most recent wins and was arguably even the case in Thursday’s loss to East-leading Tampa Bay. So the Hurricanes’ current win streak is not at all the result of hanging close and getting lucky. They are playing well enough to beat good teams right now which is significant.
2–On a related note, goaltending has faded into the background a bit. Make no mistake that the Hurricanes netminding has still been solid and equally important consistent. But whereas the team won some games awhile back that required superhuman goaltending efforts. As impressive as those wins were, trying to win consistently because your goalie stands on his head when the other team is better is very difficult to sustain. So right now, the Hurricanes are in a better place where the prospect of a goalie stealing a game is still there, but it really has not been the case in recent wins.
As has been the case recently, the Hurricanes started on time for Sunday’s 12:30pm start. Any concerns that the team might have trouble getting going were put to rest early. I would not say that the Hurricanes were necessarily sharp out of the gate, but they were aggressive and fast to pucks which made them the attacker and not attackee for most of the first period, tilted the ice into the offensive zone and saw them collect more shots and scoring chances. To further make sure everyone was awake for the early game, Micheal Ferland dropped the gloves and won a fight to further amp things up. It was not until late in the period, but the Hurricanes were rewarded when Sebastian Aho had a breakaway from the center line in when a Predators defenseman fell. Aho went to and scored on his patented breakaway move with a small lean/move to get the goalie moving and then scoring five hole. Next Saku Maenalanen would put the Hurricanes up 2-0 with a pretty finish into the upper corner of the net. The good guys would take that well-deserved 2-0 lead into the first intermission.
The Predators would score first in the second period trying to climb back into the game, but the Hurricanes then dialed it up and quickly sprinted out to a 5-1 lead. First, Aho would finish into the corner of the net on the power play on a pretty Micheal Ferland pass. Then Lucas Wallmark would also pick a corner and beat Pekka Rinne off the rush. And then Justin Williams would score on a craze four times deflection goal that was tipped by Ferland, tipped by Williams, went off of a Predators defenseman and then finally off of another defenseman’s skate and into the net.
At that point, the hockey gods had spoken.
To their credit, the Preds tried to push back and did score the next goal late in the second period on a back door tap in off the rush when Aho was caught watching the puck and floating a bit instead of identifying and defending his man on a 3-on-3. But the Hurricanes emerged from the second period with a 5-2 lead.
For the most part, the Hurricanes played a safe and efficient third period being content to make simple plays and advance the puck. But the Predators at least tried to make things interesting with a goal seven minutes into the third period to pull within 5-3. When Victor Rask took a penalty with just inside of five minutes remaining, a white-knuckler finish seemed to be on the way. But Sebastian Aho first won a race to a puck and then blew right around P.K. Subban to score a shorthanded empty-netter to put the Canes up 6-3, squelch any comeback and finish off the win.
The game had just about everything. It was entertaining in terms of scoring and even had a rare fight for old school hockey fans. And of course there was a storm surge to finish it off.
Player and other notes
1) Sebastian Aho
It goes without saying, but he definitely had a day. He actually had a tough game defensively, but that minor imperfection was buried underneath his hat trick and four-point game. What impresses me most about Aho right now is the fire and determination that is fueling his success. He is not so much letting the game come to him as he is going and taking the game.
2) Micheal Ferland
His day was arguably as good as Aho’s. I am not a fan of unnecessary fighting, but I actually thought Ferland’s fight was well-timed in that it helped get the Canes intensity level up for the odd afternoon start. His pass to Aho was a thing of beauty on Aho’s power play goal. And playing a 200-foot, two-way game, Ferland had at least two plays where his hard skating and backchecking snuffed out potential grade A scoring chances for the Predators.
3) Justin Williams
His goal on Sunday was maybe not as clutch as the ones in previous games since the Hurricanes were already up 4-1, but he continued his scoring run on Sunday.
The defense in total was strong again, but Slavin/Pesce were the duo that stood out most to me. The blue line in general seems to be playing up to a higher level. The break downs and errors were again few and far between today with the one coverage issue off the rush seeing Faulk and de Haan play things correctly and the break down from a forward (Aho) not marking his assignment as the third player back.
5) Four lines deep
The game continued the string during which Brind’Amour was able to mostly roll four lines throughout the game to keep everyone fresh. Even the low minute forwards were up above 10 minutes of ice time, and no line really seems overmatched right now.
6) Getting the bounces
No doubt the Hurricanes are playing well right now, but they have also FINALLY happened upon a stretch where they seem to be getting every single bounce. They won two coach’s challenges this week to pull opposing goals off the score board. Friday’s win saw Canes score not one, not two but three goals that were more of less own goals off of Sabres players including the bizarre Ferland goal that went off the back top of the net and somehow back out in front of the net to be scored by a Sabres defenseman. For any who were not giving credit where it was due, the hockey gods made a massive statement on the Williams goal that deflected off literally everything possible (four different players) on the way to the back of the net. Here is hoping that the lucky run lasts a bit longer as the Canes are earning it with strong play to match.
7) The standings
Based on my games above .500 math that adjusts for games played, the Hurricanes pulled within a mere three points of Montreal who currently sits in the last wild card spot. Critical is not to exhale, take the foot off the gas and give up the current streak as there is still ground to make up.
Next up for the Hurricanes is a Tuesday match up against the Rangers in New York.