It was a throwback to old-school firewagon hockey on Sunday at PNC Arena. Eleven goals, including two hat tricks, found the back of the net and when the dust settled it was the Carolina Hurricanes skating out with an unlikely seven-spot in a 7-4 win over the Edmonton Oilers.
Bill Peters, the Canes coach who lit into his team after Friday's loss to Minnesota, was considerably more upbeat after Sunday's in. "We had the puck a lot early," he said. "We had a lot of offensive opportunities. We made more plays. We were more engaged in the game, the bench was better. I just thought everything was more dialed-in all the way around."
From the start, it was obvious that this would be a defense-optional game. The Canes had fired four shots on Richard Bachman before the period was two minutes old, and at the other end the Oilers hit the post and had an odd-man rush broken up.
Following yet another successful penalty kill, the Canes proceeded to allow the first goal for the third straight game. Rasmus Rissanen, playing his second game, failed to get the puck deep on a line change and he turned it over to Jordan Eberle. Eberle sprung Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on a two-on-one that was easily converted to give the Oilers a 1-0 lead halfway through the first.
The Canes certainly had their chances to tie the game later in the period. A tripping penalty on Luke Gazdic a couple of minutes after Nugent-Hopkins had scored nearly paid dividends for Jeff Skinner, who had two top-notch chances snuffed out by Bachman. Despite piling 10 shots on net, none of them really threatened the Oilers' goaltender the rest of the way and the Canes took a 1-0 deficit into the locker room.
Even the Canes' vaunted penalty kill, as reliable as Old Faithful lately, was vulnerable on what was quickly turning into a dud of a game. Two penalties, to Alexander Semin for hooking and Eric Staal for goalie interference, resulted in two Oilers' goals in the span of 1:14, Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins doing the honors.
Semin, for his part, made amends for his earlier gaffe with a goal of the year candidate just more than a minute later. His original shot stopped, Semin followed up his own rebound, was checked down to the ice (drawing a penalty that was never enforced), and while facing away from the net face-down he somehow hooked the puck backwards into the net.
"The other guy slashed me in my legs and I went down," Semin told the media. "I just saw the puck and turned it toward the net." (With a description like that, you could be forgiven for thinking that he has done this a few times before.)
Just like in Friday's loss to Minnesota, the Canes controlled play for the better part of the second period, especially getting their legs going after Semin's goal gave the bench a lift. With seven minutes left in the period, Elias Lindholm tipped a Ron Hainsey shot that was going wide past a surprised Bachman and into the back of the net. A minute later, the Oilers' Justin Schultz took an interference penalty, followed by a Teddy Purcell hooking call, giving the Canes a 5-on-3 for 1:07. All of a sudden, what was shaping up to be a miserable afternoon had some life injected into it.
After calling his timeout to set up a play with the two-man advantage, Bill Peters' strategy of "get Jeff Skinner the puck" paid dividends when Skinner duly finished off a tic-tac-toe passing play from Lindholm and Eric Staal to tie the game at 15:23. The Canes then nearly took the lead with ten seconds left, Ryan Murphy nearly beating Bachman on a screened shot, but had to be content with three goals in the period and a tie game headed to the third.
Unlike Friday, when the Canes folded under the pressure of two quick goals to start the third period, this time it was the home team doing work. The Oilers took two penalties, and every time their penalty kill was on the ice it looked progressively worse. Andrej Nestrasil scored his fifth, a snipe from the slot that was completely undefended for some reason, followed five minutes later by Skinner's second of the night on a seeing-eye shot from the top of the near circle.
Not to be outdone, less than a minute later Lindholm scored his second, this one at even strength. The Canes - the Carolina Hurricanes, for heaven's sake - had scored six goals in less than 20 minutes of game time.
However, the game remained defense-optional, and Nugent-Hopkins reminded the Canes that poor turnovers in the defensive zone are still dangerous by scoring his hat-trick goal unassisted after a Jordan Staal turnover at 9:31. By that point, though, the damage had been done, and when Lindholm finished his own hat trick with 1:20 to go the Canes had claimed their first win in the month of March.
The schedule being what it is, the Canes get to take the momentum of this game into the next of a five-games-in-nine-nights stretch, against Columbus on Tuesday. Peters said that the schedule helps his team, especially after a morale-building game like Sunday's.
"I love our schedule. I think we need to take advantage of this five-game homestand, I really do."
After a game like that, it isn't hard to enjoy it.