For Hurricanes faithful that needed evidence that a playoff push was even possible, they got what they needed on Tuesday night.
And for Hurricanes faithful who needed a reminder that the future looks incredibly bright, they got what they needed from a tremendous game and hat trick from Sebastian Aho.
And for the many who (with good reason) called Tuesday’s game a ‘must win’, the Hurricanes rose up and responded.
Recap of the Carolina Hurricanes 5-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers
The Hurricanes started strong and controlled play early. Teuvo Teravainen fed Brock McGinn for a good scoring chance 2-on-1 early in the game. Teravainen also received a decent scoring chance on a Victor Rask pass.
Derek Ryan was sprung for a breakaway chance by a stretch pass from Noah Hanifin, and his line with Jeff Skinner and Lee Stempniak had another early shift that saw Brett Pesce fire into traffic 3 separate times on a hard working shift.
And the fourth line had a strong cycling and forechecking shift playing almost of the entirety of it in the offensive zone.
But the story of the game was Sebastian Aho’s ability to finish repeatedly in a huge hockey game. Hist first goal came when Jordan Staal’s persistence took 3 tries but eventually won a puck on the forecheck. Staal fed Aho coming off the bench and into the play where Aho made a deft skating and stickhandling move to freeze the goalie and make the far side finish look easy. Aho’s second goal when he stole the puck just inside the offensive blue line and fed Elias Lindholm and found the right open spot with a passing lane behind Staal who headed to the front of the net. Aho received the puck and finished to stake the Hurricanes to a 2-0 lead which is how the first period ended. The shot total was 8 to 2 in favor of the Hurricanes.
The second period was more of the same. The Hurricanes continued to stymie and stifle the Flyers who mustered incredibly little offensively all night. And along the way the Hurricanes continued to build their lead. In the second period Aho sniped a finish into the corner of the net for a finish and an early hat trick. Skinner then got into the act when he made a powerful rush to the front of the net and was eventually rewarded in the chaos that ensued when Stempniak fed him for a finish from in front.
By the time the Flyers mustered any kind of a push in the third period, the game was all but over. Justin Faulk scored on a blast from between the circles on a 5-on-3 power play, and the Flyers finally got on the scoreboard more or less after the game was over.
The game had the scoring theme common to the recent 4-game winning streak, but much more significantly, through 2 periods for sure (when the game was still in question), the game was the best that the Hurricanes have played defensively. Ward did make a couple good saves early, but in total the first 2 periods were as close as a goalie can get to a night off in an NHL game. By the time the Hurricanes left even a few openings for the Flyers the game was already over.
‘What I’m watching’ check in
In case you missed it, the game preview is HERE.
1) Jump and intensity out of the gate
The Canes started on time in a big way. Significantly, the Hurricanes carried the intensity level and strong play through the game unlike a few recent losses that saw strong but very short-lived starts subside and give way to lackluster efforts.
2) Who leads and carries?
The team in total played well, but my preview was dead on when I finished by saying, “I will take Sebastian Aho as a dark horse.” Of all the words used in the preview, that was obviously the most prophetic. In talking to another Canes fan after the game, I referred to this game as the “second pillar” for Aho following a huge game in early January that prompted this Sebastian Aho rant for a Daily Cup of Joe.
3) Cam Ward
I grade Ward as an N/A in this game. He did make a couple key saves early but then had very little to do until the game was mostly over in the third period. Half full would be to say that Ward handled the workload presented to him, but the bigger test likely comes this weekend.
4) Tidying up the defense and attention to detail
This was the story of the game and for me by far and away the most significant development team-wise. As I have said in multiple ways in multiple posts, better defensive play is an absolutely critical component to building a sustainable winning run both home and away.
The power play: Even before the 2 goals the power play looked better. The first power play which did not score had 4 decent chances and set the stage for a productive night.
Elias Lindholm: In a quieter fashion, Lindholm had another strong game which is becoming a repeated theme of late.
Sebastian Aho: For many elite players, becoming great is not so much a progression or a development schedule. Becoming great is about recognizing and seizing opportunities oftentimes far ahead of any logical schedule. That describes perfectly what Aho did in a huge game that many termed a “must win” for his team.
The defense: As much as Aho’s performance deserves the headlines, I think the stifling game played defensively is actually the most significant development on Tuesday. As I have written about ad nauseam, the Hurricanes’ recent struggles have been rooted in the decreased level of play defensively of late. Tuesday was absolutely exceptional in that regard.
Next up for the Hurricanes is another 3-day break before a big Friday and Saturday back-to-back set first against Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers on Friday and then a road game against the New York Islanders on Saturday.