For a little while, last night’s Carolina Hurricanes game felt like a repeat of their previous effort. The Canes had a 2-1 lead going into the dreaded third period and their opponent had come on strong in the second—this could have been trouble.
But behind Jay McClement’s game winning goal, Carolina kept the Chicago Blackhawks away from any comeback hopes, and continued their stellar home play. But this game was special for a few reasons.
After the first two periods, some nerves were felt throughout Carolina, and deservedly so. We’ve seen the “third period collapse” movie enough times But alas, the magic of Raleigh cures all.
With some of the best local art/food vendors from the city on hand, the Hurricanes put forth one of their strongest efforts all year for the second straight game. But unlike their game in Pittsburgh, they finished strong to win, earning their 10th victory in 11 tries at home. That’s good, by the way.
Just how good, you ask? Our own Jamie Kellner has that answer:
Seriously y'all, 23 out of 30 points at home. 1.53 points per game. A 77% points rate. That's some good #HurricanesHomegrown right there.— Jamie Kellner (@jbkellner) December 31, 2016
That good. And here we have the inspiration for the headline (thanks, Jamie!). Her information covers all 2016-17 home games, which means Carolina has lost just four(!) times on home ice, including just three regulation time losses.
The road record still leaves much to be desired, but one of the major gripes about the team in general has been the lack of attendance at home games. The assumed cure for this ailment is more consistent on-ice performance. Folks, it doesn’t get more consistent than 10 wins in 11 games, and the 18,000+ in attendance last night can tell you just how good this team is.
Being able to grapple with and defeat the demons that have held the Hurricanes back in later stages of games this season is crucial, especially for such a young team. It would be easy for them to get in their own heads and play too tight in the third period, only to watch their rigidity cost them again. Instead, they maintained their aggressive style and even scored in the third, which ended up being the difference.
And let’s not overlook their opponent. The Chicago Blackhawks are still the Chicago Blackhawks, and three straight wins over the current top team in the Western Conference is something to be proud of. Make no mistake, this was a statement for the Hurricanes. Let’s hope they can take that statement on the road, too.
Okay, not really lucky. More like smart. After a 10-game scoreless stretch, Elias Lindholm has found twine in two straight games, because he has figured out that going to the net usually means the puck finds you in great scoring areas. Take a look:
Jordan Staal does about 90% of the work here, but without Lindholm’s good positioning, this play could have been another “what if?” for Carolina. By driving all the way to the net with Staal, Lindholm creates more havoc in Scott Darling’s crease, but if he hangs back in the high slot, Darling could have easily found and covered the puck.
Lindholm has been somewhat streaky over his young career, and this season has largely been a forgettable one for the Swede. Sadly, just as he seems to have found a bit of consistency in his game, he sustained an upper-body injury and his situation has not yet been updated.
Still, his presence was felt early and often last night and if he can come back from injury soon, Lindholm could re-assert himself as a scoring threat in Carolina’s top-six.
Cam Ward Says No
How sweet it is to be winning because of #30, not in spite of him. Cam Ward’s play over the past two months or so has been the most consistent it has been since the last playoff run in 2009. He is making the right decisions and continues to look confident and calm in the crease. Look at this save on a Chicago 2-on-1:
That’s not just Ward getting lucky and having the puck hit him. That’s a deliberate save with the blocker, and a good one at that. And he wasn’t done there; this was one of several saves off of odd-man rush opportunities for the Blackhawks.
Ward made 27 saves, and they were important saves. Whether it was those crucial saves off of Chicago rushes, or the four shots off the mask he took, Ward was prepared. When Carolina was hemmed in their own zone during the final two minutes, Ward came up strong. The shot-blockers on defense deserve credit as well, but #30 stood tall as the last line of defense.
As it has been for quite some time, the Hurricanes go as Ward goes for the most part. The good news is that he has found his consistency, and the Canes are starting to find theirs. When he plays solid and confident like he did last night, he not only gives them a chance to win the game because the puck isn’t going in the net, but he also provides some inspiration and energy.
There’s something about winning a game like that, with the building full and the crowd’s palpable energy in the air. There’s a term for that...
The Flyers and the second wild-card spot are just five points away, FYI.