In a game that featured the out of the playoffs Chicago Blackhawks and a Carolina Hurricanes team that has been headed in the same direction and two struggling backup goalies, the first period played out maybe as expected. Each goalie allowed a goal against after a turnover and then inability to find the puck. And both teams were loose defensively throughout the first period that was sloppy for both teams. Chicago scored twice on a couple of Scott Darling miscues noted below in the player notes. And Jaccob Slavin scored off a Chicago defenseman’s stick with Brett Pesce and Elias Lindholm creating chaos in front of the net. The period ended with the Blackhawks holding a 2-1 lead.
After a front part of the game that was sloppy in both directions, the Hurricanes level of play improved as the game wore on. Justin Williams scored on a breakaway coming out of the penalty box early in the second period after receiving a heady Lindholm pass. The second half of the second period saw the Canes tilt the ice and start to pile up shots and even decent chances. Darling was not tested much during a dominant period for the Hurricanes, but he made two really good saves to hold the score at 2-2. But despite finding a higher gear, the Hurricanes were not rewarded past Justin Williams’ goal and entered the locker room after two periods still tied at 2-2.
The third period picked up right where the second period left off. The Hurricanes continued to win in terms of puck possession, shots and everything else except the scoreboard. But when a power play presented a chance to gain an advantage, and the Hurricanes capitalized. Teuvo Teravainen got a shot past the first defender and into the traffic in front of the net where both Jordan Staal and Sebastian Aho were waiting. Aho deflected the shot in for his 22nd goal on the season and a 3-2 lead. From there, the Hurricanes held on and saw Darling make another really good save late to make the 3-2 advantage hold up for a win.
Notes from the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks
1) Elias Lindholm
He had a strong game across the board in a fairly quiet way. He was credited with an assist on a heady stretch pass that found Justin Williams coming out of the penalty box for his breakaway goal. His role on Slavin’s goal was just as good or better despite not registering a scoring point. And he added a second assist on the third period power play goal. Lindholm was also strong in all three zones throughout the night, and his line (with Williams and McGinn) was on the ice for both even strength goals for. On a team that is short longer-term at right wing and needing to dedicate at least one center slot to a more offense-leaning player, I am torn on whether Lindholm is better utilized to help fill his regular right wing slot, but a couple things jump about his play at center. First is that he is capable in terms of the responsibilities that come with it. Maybe more significantly, I think his game improves with the additional requirements such that he just looks more engaged and active playing center as compared to wing where he is still prone to lulls of quiet. But back to the here and now of Thursday’s game, I thought Lindholm was the Hurricanes’ best player on the night.
2) Scott Darling
The hope that a return home and the good vibes and memories that came with it might help spark Darling seemed to fade quickly into the Chicago night during a tough first period. The period saw Darling allow a goal after his mishandle turned over the puck. Very quickly, a point shot found its way through a screen and into the net behind Darling. Next Darling allowed another goal where he just could not seem to corral it in the crease. The awkward play saw him think he had it covered while he strayed off to the side of the net and wound up wobbling off balance. When he did not actually have it, the net was wide open for an easy goal.
To Darling’s credit on Thursday night and in total for the season, hecontinued to battle on each every puck which is a testament to his character during a generally tough season. And on Thursday, he was rewarded for sticking with it. The team in front of him was better all night which made for a low volume of chances, and Darling did chip in a handful of grade A saves to put up two shutout periods on the way to a much-needed 3-2 win. The burning question is whether he can parlay the successful trip home into more over the final month of the 2017-18 season.
During the game, I tweeted:
You heard it here first…Scott Darling goes back to #Blackhawks this summer with #Canes retaining maximum 1/2 of salary. With Crawford situation, Hawks need another option, $2M salary works & it is where rebound seems most plausible. #Canes
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) March 9, 2018
Not sure what else needs to be included to make the deal happen, but I just think it makes a ton of sense. With Corey Crawford’s vertigo issues and questionable status, the Blackhawks need another goalie. They would gladly have re-signed Scott Darling but just could not afford to pay two goalies starter money. If the Canes pick up up half of his salary, $2 million per year works for the Blackhawks budget. Finally, if there is a plausible case for Darling rebounding in 2018-19 and beyond, a return home to a familiar team and situation is as strong of a story as possible especially given the reduced cost.
3) Jeff Skinner
He seems to gripping the stick really tight right now for whatever reason. Set up in front, he failed to handle the puck such that it redirected softly toward the net for a fairly easy block for the defenseman who was the only thing in the way of a goal. Shortly thereafter, Skinner had another chance in close and missed. He had another good look in the third period and also came up empty.
Reunited for much of the game, I thought both players had strong games. Slavin scored actually with Pesce as one of the players creating traffic in front. Brett Pesce had two decent chances including a breakaway attempt that was thwarted. And the duo’s bread and butter defensive play was intact.
5) No help in the standings
The Columbus Blue Jackets and Florida Panthers both won, so the win merely kept pace with the teams ahead of the Hurricanes. Adjusted for games played, the Hurricanes and their 71 points are still five points below the cut line which sees New Jersey with 76 points. My math puts Florida in the other wild card spot with only 73 points (compared to Columbus’ 75) because they also have three games in hand.
Next up for the Canes is a weekend off before another back-to-back set that starts Monday against the Rangers and returns home to face the Bruins on Tuesday in Raleigh.