After climbing up into a playoff spot with Thursday’s win, the Hurricanes fell back below the cut line with Friday’s results. Such is life this time of year for a team battling for position at the playoff cut line.
The key is to stay focused on winning and applying pressure on the other teams in the hunt.
The Hurricanes did exactly that on Saturday with a 3-0 win in Dallas.
In my opinion, this game was the team’s most complete in some time. Curtis McElhinney was perfect and played well, but he was not the story of the game despite the shutout. The Hurricanes got back to dictating play, and the result was an advantage in terms of shots and more importantly medium to good scoring chances. Unlike Thursday, the Canes converted a 5-on-3 power play and played a pretty clean game in terms of errors. If I could pick one game from the last five or six wins to model the rest of the season after, this game would be it.
The game plucked one of the big positives from last weekend which was pouncing on opponents before they could get up to Canes speed. On Saturday, the Hurricanes continued the trend of scoring early when a passing play off the rush saw Warren Foegele and Greg McKegg assist on a Lucas Wallmark goal that deflected off a defenseman’s skate and past goalie Ben Bishop. The Hurricanes then had a couple goal posts while they were still buzzing around early. Dallas pushed back after getting up to speed and hit two posts as well in the first period. When the dust settled, two players on each team had clanked the post, but the score was only 1-0 in favor of the Hurricanes. The modest 6 to 4 shot advantage for the Hurricanes maybe a bit understated the volume of near misses on chances.
Early in the second period, Justin Faulk wired a wrist shot on the power play to put the Hurricanes up 2-0. That seemed to spark the Hurricanes. The Canes have had a number of lackluster second periods of late, but that was not the case on Saturday. The Hurricanes seemed to find a higher gear and get the upper hand for most of the second period. Despite not scoring again, the game was trending positively coming out of the second period with a 2-0 lead after a 14 to 6 shot advantage in the second period.
After collecting only 10 shots on goal through two periods and incurring the wrath of the home fans, the Stars finally pushed a bit in the third period. But the Hurricanes were pretty sound defensively such that even when the Stars shot total rose, the volume of high-quality chances did not change significantly. Curtis McElhinney had another strong game (perfect obviously) but unlike a few other recent wins, goaltending did not have to be the story. Jordan Martinook would cap off the victory with an empty-netter shortly after Dallas pulled its goalie.
This win was an impressive one. I am not sure one could ask for too much more in terms of a complete effort.
Player and other notes
1) The blue line
The blue line was the leader in Saturday’s win in my opinion. The team in total was good defensively, but I think especially the defensemen were strong. The number of breakdowns was minimal, while the number of good plays defending the puck was high. Faulk’s goal also continued a good trend of chipping in offensively. Faulk gets top honors because he also scored, but the group of six in total was strong.
2) Jordan Staal
He kind of eased his way back into it. He did have a great scoring chance on his first shift but missed high and had another grade A chance later in the game. He did collect an assist by winning the face-off before Martinook’s empty-netter and also picked up an obstruction penalty. After more than two months since his injury, I would consider Saturday an initial step forward with 13:57 of ice time in a win.
3) Nino Niederreiter
His mini-spat with Roman Polak impressed me. Polak is a tough customer in an old school, throwback, nasty kind of way. Niederreiter looked him eye to eye as they exchanged a couple jabs and pushes at the side of the net, and then Niederreiter went straight to the front of the net where it continued. He was smart enough not to get goaded into a fight after the whistle, but in no way did he back down to a tough customer.
4) Back in again
The Penguins blew a third period lead on Saturday night and only picked up an OTL point. That puts the Pens and Canes tied for the last playoff spot with the Hurricanes winning the tiebreaker. So we wake up in a playoff spot again on Sunday!
Next up is a couple days to recharge and wait for the trade deadline to pass before a Tuesday match up again PNC Arena against the Los Angeles Kings.