With a Pittsburgh Penguins loss earlier in the day, the Carolina Hurricanes stepped onto the ice needing only a win to move into playoff position.
Following a formula that was nearly identical to Friday’s win, the Hurricanes did just that with a 3-0 lead over the Dallas Stars. Just like on Friday, the win featured a couple goals early, stellar goaltending throughout and a ‘meh’ effort in total.
In a complete reversal of roles, the Hurricanes have taken to being outplayed sometimes and just relying on stellar goaltending and clutch scoring as the shots pile up against them. And with this new ‘find a way’ kind of fun, the Hurricanes climbed into playoff position on February 16.
Game recap – repeating Friday
On Saturday, the Hurricanes were aggressive early and just like on Friday were able to capitalize on a couple errors early by the Stars. The Stars seemed to start slowly on defense. First, Lucas Wallmark had a breakaway that was thwarted by goalie Anton Khudobin. The Stars had issues sorting things out a couple other times. At the 5:09 mark, the Hurricanes capitalized when Sebastian Aho fed Justin Williams a cross-ice pass on a 2-on-1 rush to put the Hurricanes up 1-0. Just over three minutes later, the Stars failed to clear their zone twice with the second try being a bad pass right to Justin Faulk at the blue line. Faulk did well to one-time a pass on a rolling puck right to Brock McGinn in front of the net. McGinn also did well receiving a rolling puck and deftly depositing it into the net. With an aggressive start, generous defensive play by the opponent and some opportunistic finishing, the Hurricanes were quickly out to a two-goal lead. But the Stars seemed to wake up at that time and were the better team for the rest of the first period. But Petr Mrazek was sharp. His best sequence was a couple point blank saves that saw him react emphatically as the whistle blue and the game went to a television timeout. When the first period ended, the Hurricanes had been out-shot 15 to 8 but led by a 2-0 margin.
Also following Friday’s formula, the second period was a slog through the mud for the Hurricanes. The team had trouble moving he puck cohesively and mostly turned it back over after winning it. The shots on goal totals were 11 to 4 in favor of the Stars. The Hurricanes did a reasonably good chance of defending under duress such that they did not give up much for grade A chances in front of the net. But Mrazek still had to make a couple of great saves and a couple tough ones on deflections and caroms. The second period was a very forgettable one from a Hurricanes standpoint, but the good guys still exited it with the 2-0 lead still intact.
The third period was somewhat better from a Hurricanes perspective. Aho’s line was pretty good at winning the puck and then playing shifts in the offensive zone. But by and large the other lines spent too much time hemmed in their own end. But Mrazek was stellar and had an answer for anything and everything and the Hurricanes plodded through the front part of the third period still with a 2-0 lead. The Canes would seal the win with a power play goal with less than five minutes remaining in the game. A nifty Andrei Svechnikov pass found Ferland in front who quickly got the puck on net and through Khudobin. At that point, the Hurricanes smelled blood and dialed things up a notch. The Hurricanes did not score again, but they dictated play until the end.
The storm surge was a fun take on the limbo using a hockey stick which was made even more enjoyable by more backlash (Don Cherry this time) from hockey dinosaurs.
Player and other notes
1) Petr Mrazek
For the second night in a row, the Hurricanes stellar goaltending was the difference. The Hurricanes did a reasonably good job of not giving up breakaways or leaving players open for point blank chances, but the shot volume was fairly high and Mrazek saw more than his fair share of odd deflections and other shots that changed direction. But the telltale sign for Mrazek is his anticipation. He was sharp in that regard seemingly being a quarter of a second ahead of the play and where the shot was coming from. His emphatic body language on the couple consecutive saves in the first period said a lot about where this game was headed.
Not sure how one could check it quickly, but I have to imagine it has been a long time since a goalie was the first star for the Canes in consecutive games.
2) A reversal of fortunes
What is striking about the pair of weekend wins is how un-Canes-like they were. As noted above, goaltending led the way. In addition, the Hurricanes were out-shot by a decent margin especially when the game was being decided. But the Hurricanes overcame shot volume with opportunistic finishing.
That is the exact opposite of years of struggles. Winning with goaltending? Giving up more shots but winning with finishing? Ideally, the Hurricanes can get back to a bit stronger level of play, but until then this idea of winning anyway is fun.
3) A willingness to pay the price
The biggest equalizer was Mrazek, but the Hurricanes also made up for not having the puck by willing to jump in front of pucks. In addition to 33 shots on net by Dallas, the Hurricanes also blocked a whopping 25 shots. Faulk led the way with six shots blocked and Slavin was right behind him with 4. The blue line in total had six blocked shots. Again, better would be to resume outplaying/out-shooting teams, but the Hurricanes did demonstrate a willingness to do what it takes to win.
4) Jordan Staal
Though the team is winning without him right now which is impressive, I think the team misses Jordan Staal in games like this. As I noted above, Aho’s line was the only one that could consistently transition from defending to playing offense and spending time in the offensive zone. The result was too much time defending. Arguably Jordan Staal’s greatest strength is his ability to win pucks in the defensive zone and then get the puck efficiently into the offensive zone with possession. That skill set can go a long way toward balancing out play in games like Saturday’s.
5) Sebastian Aho
It was in an understated way, but I thought he had a strong game. He did just enough Jordan Staal to keep the Hurricanes from completely being hemmed in their own end, and as good players do, he made the most of a single favorable offensive situation when he fed Williams for his goal.
6) Results matter
When we look at the standings tomorrow, the Hurricanes will be in the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. That is a good thing!
Next up for the Hurricanes is the last of three games at home with a match up against the Rangers on Tuesday.