It is that time of year when all that really matters is the result. The Hurricanes picked up the win that they needed. In doing so, the Canes maintained control of their own playoff destiny and also climbed back ahead of Columbus who lost.
I will of course go on the rehash details below, but the results are what matter.
After the loss to the Penguins on Sunday and the diversion to the harder path, the white-knuckler final week of the NHL regular season kicked off for the Hurricanes in Toronto on Tuesday night.
The timing was favorable for catching the Maple Leafs who played yesterday and locked in their playoff position. That also meant catching backup goalie Garret Sparks which would factor significantly into the outcome.
Carolina Hurricanes game recap
The Hurricanes came out with the pedal down and their hair on fire just as one would hope based on what was on the line. The Hurricanes pace, intensity and compete level was maxed out on the dial from the opening face-off and mostly stayed at that level throughout the game. The edge in terms of pace and intensity showed up fairly quickly in the basic stats. The Hurricanes carried the play and tilted the ice into the offensive zone and gained a shot advantage. The best chance early came when Lucas Wallmark somehow fired off the top of the cross bar from point blank range and looking at half of an open net. The Hurricanes also got a bit sloppy as the first period wore on. A bad Haydn Fleury pinch led to an odd man rush and obstruction penalty only Fleury who was trying to get back into the play. Another odd man rush followed later with a Leafs goal that was disallowed because of an offsides in a Hurricanes challenge. And from that point forward an odd back and forth ensued. At the same time, the Hurricanes controlled the majority of play but also increasingly had dangerous break downs. Just when it looked like the Hurricanes were going to exit to the first period with nothing to show for it, the team caught a huge break. A harmless flip on net from an impossible angle on the end line caught goalie Garret Sparks without his skate against the post. The result was a soft goal and a 1-0 lead for the Hurricanes after a first period that saw the Hurricanes out-shoot the Maple Leafs by a 10 to 2 margin.
Early in the second period, the Hurricanes again capitalized on a goaltending gift. While on the power play, the puck found Dougie Hamilton at the side of the net. Hamilton improbably netted the Hurricanes second goal of the game right through Sparks when he again failed to get to the post to close that hole. The 2-0 lead offered the Canes some breathing room, and the team continued to control play into the second period. The Hurricanes were out-shooting Toronto by a roughly 2-to-1 margin and still carrying play when they cracked the door open by given a talented bunch its third power play. When John Tavares scored on the power play, the game changed. After seemingly being content to just ride out 60 minutes in a game without much significance, the Maple Leafs were suddenly buzzing. From that point forward, the Leafs were much more dangerous, and at the same time the Hurricanes attention to detail seemed to revert quickly back to some of the problems in the Pittsburgh loss. The Hurricanes spent portions of what was left in the second period under duress but managed to escape the period with a narrow 2-1 lead.
The third period mostly picked up where the second period left off. Petr Mrazek stepped up his game and dazzled when needed. But with about 13 minutes to go in the third period, I exclaimed on Twitter:
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) April 3, 2019
One could feel the game drifting rapidly in the wrong direction and certain not to end in a 2-1. But just when the Hurricanes seemed ready to collapse, Jordan Staal scored arguably his biggest goal as a Hurricane to put the good guys up by a 3-1 margin with 9:36 remaining. That seemed to somewhat slow Toronto’s push temporarily and at least relieve pressure on the Hurricanes. Dougie Hamilton would add an empty-netter for his second goal of the night to seal a 4-1 win.
Player and other notes
1) The standings
Montreal kept pace with the Hurricanes with a huge win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Columbus lost to the Boston Bruins. And the Penguins lost to Detroit. With Columbus’ lost, the Hurricanes pulled back into 7th place with a one-point lead over both Montreal and Columbus. With a Hurricanes win in regulation or overtime and an Canadiens loss (to the Capitals) in regulation or overtime on Thursday, the Hurricanes can clinch a long awaited playoff berth.
2) The compete level
On Twitter shortly after the game, I said the “attention to detail was an intermittent hot mess”. For the second half of the game after Toronto woke up this game was not significantly different than the ugly Pens loss on Sunday in terms of puck management, defensive zone coverage and other details. But what unmistakably stood to me in this game was how hard the team, to a man, competed for the full 60 minutes. The Hurricanes engaged the puck and battled each and every time. And the work ethic was through the roof.
3) Justin Williams
Yet again, the goal was nothing at all for a highlight reel with an odd angle shot somehow finding a hole for a soft goal, but yet again Williams found a way to score a huge goal when the team really needed it.
4) Jordan Staal
His game is on the upswing right now. The scoring is not always there, but right now he is playing peak level Jordan Staal hockey in terms of just being difficult to play against.
5) Riding the horses that got you here
With so much on the line and possibly partly because these last three games space out every other day, Brind’Amour who rode four lines and three defense pairings for so long is shortening the bench. After a couple miscues in the first period, Haydn Fleury logged only 7:13 of ice time. Pesce, Faulk and Slavin averaged about 26 minutes of ice time each without an overtime period. At forward, Foegele and McKegg saw minimal ice time late in the game. Here is hoping that there is enough left in the tank to do this two more times if needed without hitting a physical wall.
6) Petr Mrazek
That game was an odd one for Mrazek. He had very little to do in the first half of the game, but still had to make tough saves on breakaways. Then for about 20 minutes from midway through the second period and midway through the third period, the Canes skaters looked mostly lost. During that stretch, Mrazek seemed to single-handedly drag the team forward until Staal’s goal relieved pressure.
Up next is a home match up on Thursday against the New Jersey Devils. It takes help from the Capitals against the Canadiens, but the potential is there for the Hurricanes to clinch a playoff berth at home that night.