Bringing back memories of the legendary Jeff O’Neill black eye game against Toronto in the 2002 NHL Playoffs, Justin Williams scored a goal off his face to open scoring and went on to have a huge game in the Hurricanes 4-3 win over the Florida Panthers.
Not too long ago, I retweeted a post that showed the Hurricanes at the bottom of the NHL at 0-17-3 when trailing after two periods. Tuesday’s win marked the second time that the ‘just find a way’ Canes came from behind to win i the third period.
Coupled with a Penguins loss and an idle night for the Blue Jackets, the win propelled the Hurricanes back into playoff position at a point above the Blue Jackets who have two games in hand and a point below the Penguins who have played the same number of games.
Other than just winning and being in the thick of the playoff chase now into late February, one theme rises to the top for me right now.
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) February 22, 2019
After years of suffering through “but we out-shot them”, “we were beaten by a hot goalie”, “if it wasn’t for that one play”, etc. in losses that seemingly could have deserved better, the Hurricanes right now just seem to find a way to win whenever given the chance. And that is refreshing.
Like many other recent wins, Tuesday’s had more than its share of imperfections if you want to analyze it for quality of play, but the game was perfect on the scoreboard.
The Hurricanes wasted a full two minutes of 5-on-3 power play with a one-goal lead in the third period in addition to squandering another 27 seconds of 2-man advantage earlier in the game. That almost always ends badly. The team struggled to block passing lanes when on the penalty kill all night. Only a bit of luck and a few stellar Petr Mrazek saves kept a 2 for 4 night on the kill from being even worse. And when defending a one-goal lead late in the third period, the best the Canes could muster was a lucky post, Petr Mrazek standing on his head and a run of near misses that almost forced overtime.
But as messy as it was, the Hurricanes made plays, were resilient and came away with the two points. And now entering the final quarter of the 2018-19 NHL season, that trumps all else.
After a decent start the Hurricanes scored first, when Brett Pesce tried to find daylight into a corner of the net and instead found Justin Williams’ face. The puck found the back of the net as Williams fell to the ice and quickly scurried to the locker room. No doubt he will be sore and probably purple-ish tomorrow, but he returned. Hopefully that means it was just a glancing blow, and Williams will be no worse for come puck drop on Saturday. The Hurricanes also had a strong power play in the first period even though it did not net a goal. In total, I rated the Hurricanes as decent even if maybe not spectacular in the first period that ended with a 1-0 lead.
Early in the second period, Williams who had returned would make another play to deflect a Jaccob Slavin point shot. Nino Niederreiter deftly and quickly played the puck from his skate to his stick and finished from the top of the crease. At that point, the Hurricanes seemed to be on their way. Then to use a Brind’Amour term, the team ‘exhaled.’ The results were three quick goals by the Panthers. First, the combination of Dougie Hamilton and Jaccob Slavin were sloppy with the puck behind their own net. The result was a steal, a quick centering pass and a goal by Evgenii Dadonov. Next, the Hurricanes got a bit too spread out on the penalty kill. The Panthers exploited the seams through the box for two quick passes and a crazy skilled mid-air tap in on the back door by Aleksander Barkov. Then shortly thereafter the Hurricanes were again sloppy with their passing lane coverage on the penalty kill. The result was a fairly simply pass off the rush for a shot from between the face-off circles. Jonathan Huberdeau beat Mrazek from point blank range to make it 3-2 Florida. At that point, the Hurricanes had paused every so briefly and had a two-goal lead transformed into a one-goal deficit in less than five minutes of hockey. Brind’Amour then used his timeout and laid into the bench, but the Panthers were still riding momentum. A handful of outstanding saves by Petr Mrazek down the stretch were all that kept the Hurricanes in the game. The Hurricanes squandered 28 seconds of 5-on-3 power play time and limped into the locker room down 3-2 after two periods and hoping to recover for the third period.
The Hurricanes started the third period on the power play and rebounded quickly when Justin Faulk wired a shot through traffic and into the net only 19 seconds into the third period. Just under two minutes later, Justin Williams struck again when he finished a power play chance off the rush following a pretty passing play from Faulk to Aho to Teravainen to Williams who was in alone. Like the rest of the effort, the close out was anything but perfect. The Hurricanes failed to score on a full two minutes of 5-on-3 play to build a cushion. And the last five minutes mostly featured some combination of Mrazek performing magic, the Panthers dominating but just not quite connecting and the Hurricanes doing very little to actually close out the win in control.
But when the game finished and the scoreboard read 4-3 Hurricanes, the result could not have been any more perfect.
Player and other notes
1) Justin Williams
If the Hurricanes play mid-April hockey, this game will go down in Canes lore for Justin Williams. He had a huge three-point night including the first goal and the game-winner in addition to collecting an assist. And in a visual game, the image of Williams on the bench with a swollen cheek with a couple stitches and gauze in his nose to stop bleeding create a classic lasting hockey visual memory.
2) Petr Mrazek
His game will maybe be underappreciated due to the modest top line stats with three goals allowed, but Mrazek was a difference-maker when the team desperately needed one. He had two huge saves and held the fort after Florida’s surge to 3-2. He also mostly maintained the 4-3 lead for the last five minutes by himself. When one also considers that two of the three goals allowed were point blank tallies that he had no chance on, his night was a very good one.
3) Justin Faulk
His goal was a huge one. Scoring early set the tone at least for the front half of the third period which was enough to pull out a huge win. Faulk also logged a massive Scott Niedermayer-like 28:49 of ice time in a game that ended in regulation.
4) Jordan Staal
I have said on a few occasions that it is games like this one that I think Jordan Staal could bring more stability with his ability to win pucks and get them to the offensive zone with possession and in the process relieve pressure.
Next up for the Hurricanes is a Saturday rematch against the Stars in Dallas.