After a run of three impressive wins, Saturday night in Florida was a return to fun heroics.
As I said on Twitter shortly after the game:
#Canes score 2 early, proceed to lay an egg, somehow climb into overtime and then ride Petr Mrazek OT heroics to an improbable win. Roller coaster in full effect! Post is open for reader comments; recap will follow later=> https://t.co/TeDEpjjmfU #TakeWarning
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) March 3, 2019
But the result was the same, and the fun matched any of the more impressive hockey from the last week. And with Columbus losing in the afternoon and Pittsburgh beating Montreal, the Hurricanes gained two points on two of the three teams that they are battling right now for the last couple spots. (Never mind that the top of the Metropolitan Division is also coming into range.)
Hurricanes fans who check the standings on Sunday with only 17 games remaining in the 2018-19 NHL regular season will find the Hurricanes in the third playoff spot for the Metropolitan Division and now up a point on Pittsburgh and two on Columbus and Montreal (all adjusted for games played).
This game was very much like the back-to-back wins against Dallas and Edmonton a couple weeks back. The Hurricanes pounced on goalie Sam Montembeault who was making his NHL debut. First, Brock McGinn swiped a puck from a Florida defenseman and quickly squeaked it through a short side opening for a soft goal. Then Lucas Wallmark fed Greg McKegg in the slot for a bang-bang attempt and a 2-0 Hurricanes lead only 2:05 into the game.
At that point, the game at least had the potential to go the route of the Los Angeles Kings blow out.
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) March 3, 2019
In about as long as it took Canes fans to dream up a fun blow out final score, the game turned around dramatically. Florida pushed onto the scoreboard five minutes in on a rare goal that Petr Mrazek would want back. Some combination of Slavin, Hamilton and Slavin got mixed up in the neutral zone. Borgstrom stepped into the offensive zone freely and fired through an opening when Mrazek seemed to guess pass way to soon and play himself out of position. The Hurricanes level of play degraded from there with puck management in the defensive zone and neutral zone being the biggest culprits. By midway through the first period, it became increasingly apparent that the early two-goal lead was fool’s gold. Florida scored again midway through the first period when Mark Pysyk fired through what looked like a line of Hurricanes screeners and past Mrazek who never seemed to find the puck. The rest of the first period was similar with the Canes playing sloppy hockey and just repeatedly trying unsuccessfully to find a higher gear.
Unfortunately, the second period was more of the same. After collecting five shots and two goals early in the game, the Hurricanes finished the second period with only 16 shots on goal. The Hurricanes defense settled down some, and more significantly Mrazek made a handful of grade A saves in the latter half of the second period to keep the score tied at 2-2.
The Hurricanes entered the third period with a chance to win a hockey game with one good period but little to suggest that a good period was coming. When Borgstrom scored his second of the game early in the second period, the game seemed destined to become a disappointing loss. Down a goal, the Hurricanes started gambling a bit trying desperately to generate scoring chances. The result was three consecutive shifts that saw Canes defensemen playing below the top of the face-off circles like an extra forward. From the third time is a charm category, playing as a fourth forward on the rush Brett Pesce made a pretty play to score. He played a deflected pass off his upper body and down to his stick from where he quickly deposited a backhand into the net. The goal continued the recent trend of the blue line making significant contributions offensively. The aggressive push forward by the defensemen helped, but the third period really was not anything special for the Hurricanes either. But Mrazek had enough answers, and the team had enough opportunistic scoring to at least collect one point that probably was not deserved.
But overtime was another fun example of just finding a way to win. The Hurricanes played the front part of the overtime session without the puck and mostly under siege. Petr Mrazek had a series of increasingly improbable saves to extend the game. The whole sequence is worth a watch or rewatch on Sunday, but the highlight was a lunging poke check. After three rounds of Mrazek’s heroics, the Hurricanes finally received a chance in the form of a two on one for Nino Niederreiter and Sebastian Aho. Niederreiter got the puck across. Aho made no mistake finishing. And Mrzake launched into a great celebration after helping his team steal two points on what was mostly a tough night.
1) Petr Mrazek
He has had a few games of late where his top line statistics were not overly impressive but missed how well he played. He did get beaten for a soft goal to get Florida started, but from that point forward he was solid. He had a handful of really good saves late in teh second period to keep his team tied despite its struggles. He battled in the third period and played a significant role in getting to overtime. And if I had to split the overtime point among players, it would go 80% to Mrazek with Aho and Niederreiter getting a piece for the winning goal.
2) Brock McGinn
On a night when very few Canes players ever seemed to get going, Brock McGinn seemed to find high gear. He had the steal and goal early. He also had another almost most later in the game, and in general just seemed to have the pace more so than his team mates.
3) Results matter above all else
I could go the route of chucking a few players and defense pairings under the bus (deservedly in my opinion), but it is March and the Hurricanes are in playoff position. Results trump all else, so in that regard the game was a rousing success. And though I was concerned about the team’s level of play a week or so ago, the Hurricanes had played three straight solid games coming into this one.
I may have jinxed the team in my game preview when I said:
It is the time of year when even teams that are dialed in can have an occasional night where the skaters just do not have it physically. The way to stay in every game is to be good on defense and good in net. Especially in the back-to-back sets, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can maintain their high level of play defensively even if they hit a game or two with a physical lull.
As such, I think you write it off as what happens sometimes in the final third of the season and be thrilled that the Hurricanes got an egg out of their system and still won.
The Hurricanes picked up points on each of the three teams in the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff chase right now and also the teams above them.
Next up is what might be a needed two-day layoff before the schedule becomes more difficult starting with a road tilt with the Boston Bruins.