The Carolina Hurricanes entered Friday’s match up against New Jersey with the weight of a six-game losing streak having been lifted off their backs the night before but still needing to do more to gain ground in the battle for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
The opponent was a tough one in the New Jersey Devils who are currently in playoff position themselves and gave the Hurricanes fits in two games in the span of a few days that saw the Hurricanes drubbed 5-2 and then suffer a 3-2 loss in overtime.
But picking up where they left off on Thursday, the Hurricanes turned things around against the Devils and picked up a solid 3-1 win to push to two straight wins. The margin of victory was only a single goal plus an empty-netter, but the level of play was incredibly high for the Hurricanes. As happens too often, the Canes generated a bit more offense than their two goals (not counting the empty-netter) would indicate, and the team played a strong and nearly error free game defensively.
The first period was fairly tightly played by both teams. The Hurricanes had the upper hand in terms of possession and offensive zone time but did not generate a ton of high-quality chances. Derek Ryan had a couple of the best chances including a shot that beat Devils goalie Keith Kinkaid but clanged the post and then two consecutive chances from just inside the face-off circle. But despite being the better team and collecting a 9 to 6 shot advantage, the Hurricanes exited the first period scoreless and still tied with New Jersey.
The second period started similarly but again offered little in the way of score board reward early. Victor Rask was the next fourth-liner to step up with a couple strong plays off the forecheck and a couple good chances to score. Finally, just after the midway point of the game and after multiple near misses, the hockey gods looked down and rewarded the Hurricanes fourth line with a goal on a Derek Ryan centering pass that glanced off a Devils defenseman’s skate and into the net. The Hurricanes would hold that lead until late in the period when an ill-timed offensive zone penalty by Derek Ryan gave New Jersey a late period power play. After nearly two periods that were fairly quiet for Taylor Hall, the power play presented the small opening that Hall needed to extend his point streak to 24 games. Cam Ward had no chance on his deft deflection on a shot/pass, and the result was a 1-1 tie heading into the third period.
The Hurricanes continued to play well and mounted a couple rounds of sustained pressure that carried from one shift to the next. Matching Hall’s goal earlier, Teuvo Teravainen finished with a tip in front on a Brett Pesce point shot to stake the Hurricanes to a 2-1 lead just before the midway point of the third period. From that point forward, the Hurricanes continued to be pretty sound defensively, and Cam Ward who was sharp in playing both halves of the back-to-back had a couple big answers to hold the lead. Justin Williams put it away with an empty net goal from the left side that had just enough similarities to serve as a reminder of his class empty-netter to finish off the Stanley Cup win 13 years ago.
The win was a second consecutive solid win over a team currently slotted to play in the playoffs.
Notes from the Carolina Hurricanes 3-1 win over the New Jersey Devils
1) The fourth line on offense
They suffered a bit from the regular inability to finish, but on a low-scoring night the line fourth line of Rask/Ryan/Stempniak was the team’s best offensively. The trio spent a ton of time in the offensive zone and generated a reasonable volume of decent maybe if not great scoring chances. They did net one goal but could have had more with Ryan’s post and a couple other point blank chances for Ryan and Rask. If you count this as the team’s fourth line which seems reasonable even though they played third line minutes on Friday, then the offensive production of one goal was plenty and signs are that there could be more to come.
2) The Staal line on defense
The fact that the Canes one make it a non-issue, but in some ways it was too bad that Hall netted a power play goal. Jordan Staal along with line mates Justin Williams and Brock McGinn and mostly paired with Slavin/Pesce had a strong game defensively holding down one of the NHL’s hottest players right now in Tyler Hall. Staal logged 20:28 of ice time and was dinged only for the Hall power play goal.
3) …With Slavin/Pesce
Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce also had incredibly strong games and spent a significant portion of their ice time paired with Staal and matched up with Hall’s line. And for the second consecutive game, Pesce got a well-timed shot through to the front of the net with a Hurricanes forward within range for a deflection and a goal.
4) Hanifin/Faulk March reunion
Last year after the trade deadline departure of Ron Hainsey, Noah Hanifin and Justin Faulk were united for a month of March that was each player’s strongest month during up and down 2016-17 seasons for both. The duo spent most of Friday’s game together and held their own in a second pairing role. With all hands needed on deck right now, a repeat of last year’s strong March would be appreciated if they stay together.
5) Cam Ward
Playing both halves of a back-to-back for the first time in awhile, Cam Ward looked sharp. From confidently snaring pucks with his glove hand to rebound control to making a couple stellar saves, he was solid throughout and spectacular a couple times when it was needed in a big game and with no margin for error. With the pair of wins, I think the net might now be his for the vast majority of the remainder of the 2017-18 season. The Canes do have two different pairs of back-to-back sets that are clustered together such that Ward might need a game or two off, but otherwise I think Peters is rapidly approaching the point where he rides him almost exclusively to the end.
6) You might be looking at the wrong team
With the Columbus Blue Jackets’ loss on Friday night, the Hurricanes are now in a dead heat in the standings for the last playoff spot. But in reality the front runner and team that the Hurricanes are chasing is the Florida Panthers. The Panthers are a point behind Columbus and Carolina in the standings but with three games in hand, adjusted math suggests that the Panthers are actually up two points on both teams (counting games in hand as a point each) with the potential to make it five points if they were to win all three games in hand.
Next up is the fourth challenge of the week against a playoff team when Winnipeg comes to PNC Arena on Sunday night.