On a weekend when the Carolina Hurricanes celebrated their past, the Saturday-night finale provided some fireworks reminiscent of that Cup-winning season ten years ago.
A two-goal outburst from Victor Rask and Andrej Nestrasil's second goal in as many games made the difference in a 6-3 Hurricanes win over the New York Islanders that featured pregame silverware, backup goaltenders, greatest-hits music on the arena PA and a season high in goals to entertain the crowd of 16,520.
Coach Bill Peters, in an uncharacteristically blunt and feisty pregame media scrum, said he expected his team to finish better after letting multiple quality chances go by the wayside on Friday against the Penguins. Mission accomplished, although it took a while in the first period, when Riley Nash fired home a one-timer from the far circle with 2:38 remaining.
The team got the same message as the media, Peters said after the game. "You have to find a way to finish and score big goals in big games. And let's not kid ourselves, these are big games right now."
A five-goal explosion in the second period masked the fact that the Canes nearly let the Isles back into the game after taking a 4-0 lead courtesy of Noah Hanifin, Kris Versteeg and Andrej Nestrasil. Hanifin's goal, his first since November 16, was originally credited to Nestrasil but was changed after a replay showed that the puck bounced off Johnny Boychuk's skate and never touched the Hurricanes' forward.
"Noah continues to do what he does," said Peters. "That's his first goal in a while. That will take a little weight off of him."
Nestrasil, like Friday night, was everywhere again. He converted a 2-on-1 from Joakim Nordstrom at 10:54 at the same spot on the ice where he put the Canes on the board against Pittsburgh, his fourth goal in as many games.
His mother and grandmother, in Raleigh for the first time to see him play, sat proudly in the stands. So too, somewhere, did the late Josef Vasicek, Nestrasil's role model growing up whose memory was honored with his Stanley Cup-winning teammates on a scoreboard tribute in the first period.
Victor Rask's two goals in 1:21 of game time to end the period, including a buzzer-beater with just over a second left on the clock (another 2006 homage), took the tally to five, the first time the Canes scored five goals in a period since a similar five-goal outburst in the second period of an 8-5 win in Tampa on April 6, 2010.
The Canes were content to sit back and play prevent defense in the third period, only surrendering a goal to Matt Martin seven minutes in. By that point, both teams had changed goaltenders, the Islanders relieving Jaroslav Halak to start the third period with Thomas Greiss and the Canes having been forced into a substitution when Cam Ward came up hobbling in the second period. Eddie Lack was forced into action for the first time since Ward's return from a concussion in Winnipeg last Friday.
"It looked like a knee or an ankle," said Peters, who didn't see Ward's injury occur. "He had to come out and he didn't feel 100% confident in it. We'll see where he's at Monday."
Prior to the game, the Hurricanes honored the 2006 Stanley Cup champions with an on-ice ceremony that included owner Peter Karmanos, thirteen retired players and the two remaining active Hurricanes, Ward and Eric Staal. Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford also remained in Raleigh after Friday's game and joined the alumni in a private suite during the game, although he did not join the team on the ice.
The Canes now have Sunday off, although the team's annual alumni game will be held Sunday afternoon, and return to practice Monday before a Tuesday home tilt with the Winnipeg Jets.