Especially after a lackluster effort and loss on Thursday night against the New York Islanders, Saturday was slated to be a ho-hum home finale as the Carolina Hurricanes quietly rode off into the sunset for the 2016-17 season.
On Saturday morning, Bryan and Amanda Bickell participated in Walk MS which was held at PNC Arena. Bryan spoke at the event, and Amanda and Bryan walked in the event. Bryan Bickell’s Walk MS donation page is HERE.
No doubt that was going to be an emotional event anyway, but then it blew up to another level when the Carolina Hurricanes players, coaches and staff arrived wearing “Bickell Brave” shirts in support of their teammate. Afterward, Byan Bickell officially announced that he would be retiring from the NHL after the final 2 games of the 2016-17 season.
The team did a tremendous job covering today’s events, so I will stop short and point you to a couple great reads/watches:
Michael Smith at CarolinaHurricanes.com wrote about Walk MS and the surprise by Bryan Bickell’s teammates. The videos are must-watch and tear jerkers at the highest level.
Not surprisingly, the team announced that Bryan Bickell had been selected as the 2016-17 winner of the Steve Chiasson award given annually to the player that best exemplifies determination and dedication while proving to be an inspiration to his teammates through his performance and approach to the game.
Finally, Kurt Dusterburg from NHL.com followed up mid-afternoon with an article that Bryan Bickell would be retiring from the NHL after the final 2 games of the 2016-17 NHL season.
As far as the game, Bickell got a start and a tremendous ovation at the TV timeout with just over 8 minutes to go in the third period.
Hockey as a community and extended family
Saturday was originally slated to be a fairly uneventful home finale. Instead, the day proved to be a special day, serving as a reminder of where even a passionate hockey hobby fits in the bigger picture of life.
But maybe even more significant than showing the need to correctly prioritize hockey, the day also showed that a hockey community can in fact be part of a support group and extended family that takes on a bigger role in our lives including the things that are more important than hockey.
Thank you to Bryan and Amanda Bickell for being part of our Hurricanes hockey community. Thank you to the players, coaches and staff for reminding us that we are a community that supports each other.
And then there was a game…Recap of Canes 5-4 shootout loss to Blues
By the time the puck dropped a little bit after 7pm, the game had been given third billing below the larger events from earlier in the day.
The Hurricanes got off to another slow start when Ivan Barbashev found the puck on his stick after a point shot hit him. He quickly deposited it into the net behind Cam Ward only 26 seconds into the game. But despite the goal against early, the Hurricanes had more life than the sluggish effort on Thursday. Jeff Skinner was buzzing early, and some loose play created chances for both teams. The good guys struck next when Klas Dahlbeck fired what looked like a harmless shot from the point. Carter Hutton was screened by his own defenseman and never saw it on its way into the net. And after playing well throughout the period, Skinner found his reward late when a rebound on a Brett Pesce point shot found his stick and then quickly his 36th goal of the season. The Canes exited the period with a 2-1 lead.
The second period went back and forth. First, Alexander Steen beat Ward on a power play point shot potentially due to a screen. But the Hurricanes stuck back on a pretty passing play. Victor Rask zipped the puck through a seam to the other side of the ice to Sergey Tolchinsky who just as quickly found Joakim Nordstrom on the back door for a pretty tic-tac-toe goal. But St. Louis scored next to tie the game at 3-3 at the tail end of the second period when Ryan Reaves fired what looked like a fairly harmless shot that eluded Ward who seemed too far to the 1 side of net, got screened and reached unsuccessfully with his glove as the puck found the net behind him.
Ironically, the momentum tilted heavily in St. Louis’ favor on a Hurricanes’ power play early in the third period. First, Noah Hanifin mishandled a puck at the offensive blue line and failed to recover. That sprung Scottie Upshall on a breakaway. Upshall made a nifty move to deke Ward out of the net and then finished. On the same power play a Justin Faulk pass to Teuvo Teravainen failed to connect. When Teravainen was unable to whack the puck back into the offensive zone, tied up the puck or do anything else to slow David Perron, it was another 1-on-none breakaway. Ward made the save this time to keep his team in the game. Then the Jeff Skinner show resumed when he made a skilled and tricky stickhandling play behind the net and then scored on a wraparound to tie the game at 4-4. The final minutes saw a couple rushes each way with an exciting conclusion with Aho storming to the net Erik Cole power forward style for a scoring chance at the buzzer.
Overtime was as exciting as ever. Jordan Staal had a chance early, but then St. Louis had 1 shortly thereafter. Then Aho again powered to the net, almost scored and drew a penalty in the process. Faulk had a slapshot blast that missed. Jeff Skinner had a strong rush to the net but had the puck roll off his stick. Staal had a decent shot. But the power play expired unsuccessfully. Slavin just missed. Staal had another chance. Pesce made a phenomenal move and just missed when he hit the post. After failing to score on their power play, the Canes played the last minute of the overtime shorthanded after a Staal penalty, but survived to reach a shootout.
And then CURSE THE SHOOTOUT. JUST CURSE THE SHOOTOUT! Lee Stempniak started the Canes out with a goal, but St. Louis ultimately won 2-1 in 4 rounds after Skinner, Slavin and Aho failed to score.
‘What I’m watching’ follow up
1) Sergey Tolchinksy
With 2 (if he plays on Sunday as expected) games to make an impression at the NHL level after a mediocre AHL season, Sergey Tolchinsky started well on Saturday night with a pretty pass to find Nordstrom for a tap in goal in the second period. Per my watch points, he generally made good judgments with the puck on his stick playing the puck forward in a few instances when no better option was available and it was the smart thing to do. He also lost a couple battles for pucks on the wall. All in all, I give Tolchinsky credit for doing what he needs to do to be a difference-maker at the NHL level which is to create offense.
2) A better effort
Saturday night will not go down as 1 of the team’s best this season, but the effort/compete level was much-improved from Thursday’s sluggish event. Skinner was buzzing early and the Hurricanes attacked with speed which has been a common component in most of the team’s best hockey this season. Sloppiness aside, the team should be commended for showing up and competing.
3) Chasing milestones
After an uncharacteristically quiet game on Thursday, Jeff Skinner was buzzing early in Saturday’s game. He got his just reward with a goal late in the first period. Skinner had multiple ‘almosts’ passing the puck to the front of the net but did not did not get onto the score sheet on any of them. But midway through the third period with his team trailing 4-3, Skinner made a pretty stickhandling play from behind the net to fool Hutton, make a tiny open on the near side post and then exploit for his second goal of the night. The second goal pushed him to 37 goals and 63 points which ties his career high from all the way back in his 2009-10 rookie season. For Skinner, it takes a point Sunday to set a career high and a hat trick to reach 40 goals.
Neither Justin Faulk (3 goals to reach 20) nor Sebastian Aho (2 points to reach 50) climbed closer to hitting their milestone.
Goalie previews down the stretch: I recently wrote an article about the expansion draft as relates to the Carolina Hurricanes. In it, I suggested that the expansion draft and the maneuvering around it could generate a number of options to add a goalie. Down the stretch, Canes fans have been able to preview a couple of the players who could be available. Against Columbus, the Canes won 2-1 in overtime against 22-year old Joonas Korpisalo. Korpisalo played well and showed why some think he could follow goalies like Matt Murray and Andrei Vasilevskiy who fast-tracked to starting roles in the NHL. The Blue Jackets will obviously protect Vezina Trophy candidate Sergei Bobrovsky which could make Korpisalo available either directly from Columbus or possibly from Las Vegas after they select him. On Saturday night, the Hurricanes faced Carter Hutton who is similarly a #2 goalie behind a #1 who is likely to be protected. Hutton is less exciting as a long-term option as a 31-year old, but he might be a safer bet short-term. Hutton was not great on Saturday, but his 2016-17 season stats entering the game were a 12-8-2 record with a solid 2.32 goals against average and respectable .914 save percentage.
Victor Rask: He had a better game with an assist and enough other good plays to be a noticeable part of the game.
Sebastian Aho: How about the couple Erik Cole-like power moves with the puck on his stick. At this point, we all know he is darn good, but that is a whole different thing.
Teuvo Teravainen: He had yet another tough night in terms of puck management. The first ‘oops’ was at least equally on Faulk for a tough pass, but ideally Teravainen is able to either redirect the puck anywhere except behind him or at least slow the onrushing player. On the other play, he turned over the puck in his own end to a danger Vladimir Tarasenko late in a tie game. Having a better grasp of when stickhandling to make a play is smart versus when it is better to make a safe and simple play continues to be a work in process for the young forward.
The scoreboard: The Flyers won on Saturday afternoon. The Jets also won. The Canes can do no worse than the #11 spot in the draft lottery/draft order. If they win in overtime or lose to the Flyers on Sunday that would bump the Canes up to #10. If the Canes get the same or fewer points as the Kings on Sunday (they play too), that could bump the Canes up another spot to as high as #9.
Next up for the Hurricanes is the season finale in Philadelphia on Sunday at 7pm.