On Thursday night in Montreal, the Hurricanes too their 8-game point streak to a tough destination – Montreal for a game against the best in the Atlantic Division. And once they got going, they won going away in Montreal with a 2-goal margin plus an empty-netter to make it 3.
Recap of Hurricanes 4-1 win against the Montreal Canadiens
With a lineup that saw significant changes in terms of lines and defense pairings, the Hurricanes got off to a bit of a rock start. The newly-minted pairing of Jaccob Slavin and Ryan Murphy had 2 early miscues of the ‘big oops’ variety. The first play saw Murphy step up lose his stick and find an opposing player and the puck behind him. Lack bailed him out. Not much later, Jaccob Slavin turned the puck over when he was hit at the offensive blue line. The play quickly turned into a 2-on-1 with only Murphy back. Murphy failed to take away the pass across and Alex Galchenyuk easily finished into the open part of the net off the rush. But the Hurricanes good run on special teams continued when Teuvo Teravainen threaded the needle with a heady pass to find Elias Lindholm on the back door for a bang in power play goal. The shot totals were not huge, but the Hurricanes were loose at times defensively because of break downs, but Eddie Lack made a handful of really good saves and also got help from Derek Ryan who made a shot block that saved a goal.
The second period was a little bit lighter in terms of break downs and grad A scoring chances. The Hurricanes mustered only 5 shots on goal but a few more quality saves by Lack and a fortuitous Lee Stempniak backhander that careened off the defenseman in front of him and by Canadiens goalie Carey Price. The Hurricanes exited the second period with a 2-1 lead and were tasked with trying to convert it to a win which has been a tough assignment on the road at times this season.
But on this night, the Hurricanes finished strong. They allowed only 6 shots against in the third period never really letting the Canadiens get going. In addition, Lee Stempniak finished from in close after a great individual play by Jeff Skinner to carry the puck deep and create a passing lane. Jeff Skinner finished things off for an empty-netter to close out a solid 4-1 win.
‘What I’m watching’ follow up
If you missed and want to catch up on the details, you can find the game preview HERE.
1) Skinner’s surge
Skinner had a solid game and collected a goal and an assist in the process, but I think you could actually make a case that he was the third best player on his line. Stempniak finished twice, and Derek Ryan continues to skate well and make plays all over the ice with the most notable on Thursday night being his hustle to get back and block a shot on an open net. But getting back to the point, Jeff Skinner continued his scoring surge even if maybe others were even better.
Eddie Lack was solid, especially early when the Hurricanes had a couple break downs that put him in tough situations. The total of only 22 shots faced does not look like much, but I think it understates the number of difficult saves that he had to make.
3) Heroes rising up to make big plays
The Hurricanes roster in total played well, but as noted above, the Skinner/Ryan/Stempniak line was the team’s best, and it was not simply Skinner having a day. Stempniak, who has been playing well in general scored 2 huge goals first to take the lead and then to build a cushion to relieve pressure down the stretch. Derek Ryan also had another huge day with the big shot block, drawing the penalty that led to Lindholm’s power play goal and adding an assist later. And Eddie Lack did his part too.
4) The blue line on the road
Peters got creative at the morning skate today putting together Slavin/Murphy, Dahlbeck/Pesce and Hanifin Slavin (in who knows what order). Slavin/Murphy struggled early, cost the team 1 goal and almost another. Murphy was lost to injury (I believe) about midway through the game at which point the defense pairings were a bit more random and also seemed to settle down. I thought Justin Faulk had an especially strong game as did his primary partner Noah Hanifin.
Confidence and mojo: Hockey can be a funny game. When things are not working, it just seems to compound. And then at other times, it seems like teams hit stretches where they are soaring, and it looks easy. Thursday featured a bit of a break on the critical Stempniak deflection goal, and the Hurricanes also just seem to be finishing at a higher rate all of a sudden.
Credit to Bill Peters: I guess one could make an argument that the team is winning in spite of his goaltending decisions and the odd blue line shuffling today. But the team is now 6-0-3 in its last 9. If blame is to be given for struggles, credit must also be given for winning. I do not pretend to understand all of it, but who cares right now?
It ain’t over ’til it’s over: I included a poll in the Thursday Coffee Shop asking if the 2016-17 season was over. It would be interesting to separate responses from before and after Thursday’s win. The Hurricanes are now 5 points behind the Boston Bruins for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference but importantly with 2 games (worth a possible 4 points) in hand. The bigger challenge might be that the Hurricanes do not simply need to catch the Bruins but also the Lightning and Islanders.
Next up for the Hurricanes is a road match up against New Jersey on Saturday. The game is the fourth and final game of a 4-game road trip that has seen the Hurricanes collect 5 out of 6 points so far.