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About Last Night: Better, But...

The Carolina Hurricanes certainly improved their play in round two against Columbus, but still came up short to their divisional rival.

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Columbus Blue Jackets Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

Considering the dumpster fire that showed up for the Carolina Hurricanes against the Penguins the other night, having a back-to-back scenario was more of a blessing for the Canes in that they got an instant shot at a bounce-back effort.

Sadly, last night’s game against the Blue Jackets featured plenty of effort, but just not quite enough execution. Still, Carolina showed the kind of rallying potential not seen in the past two games. They didn’t get the two points, but they at least opened a parachute after the two-game free fall they entered.

#1 Cop on the Force Steals the Show

First of all, if you haven’t seen Fox Sports 1’s Jay Onrait (formerly of TSN) cover highlights of Blue Jackets’ Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, A) that’s unfortunate and B) do so now.

Regrettably, Bobrovsky earned his “#1 Cop” reputation last night, making 35 saves including a couple of ten-bell quality stops, like this one:

Could Jordan Staal have done a better job of elevating the puck there? Yeah, probably. But he elevated it enough to score on most goalies in the League. Give credit where it’s due—Bobrovsky absolutely earned this save—and several others—that kept Carolina from taking the lead with a stellar effort.

This isn’t to say that a hot goalie is the only reason Carolina lost the game, but he’s certainly the biggest reason Columbus won. Jackets Coach John Tortorella even acknowledged the importance of his goaltender’s solid outing:

Bobrovsky made more than a few important saves to keep his team ahead late in the game, which reminded me of how Cam Ward has taken over several games over the past couple of months. Like Ward, Bobrovsky gave up a couple of goals, but came up most when his team needed it.

But I keep coming back to Tortorella’s line: “We have no chance if Bob doesn’t play the way he does.” That says to me that Columbus knew the Canes were outplaying them for some (if not most) of the game. Losing is never fun, but for the first time in three games, the Hurricanes actually gave themselves a legitimate chance to win. And that can be built on.

Second Period Turnaround

If you saw the Hurricanes team play in the second period against the Penguins on Friday night, you likely didn’t recognize the one in the middle frame at Nationwide Arena.

Carolina was dictating the pace of play, drawing a penalty that led to their first goal thanks to Sebastian Aho. They created odd-man rushes, one of which yielded this gorgeous Justin Faulk laser over the shoulder of Bobrovsky:

Most of all, though, they were showing some resolve and resistance—which thankfully did NOT come in the form of a Cam Ward blocker punch tonight—that built their confidence before our eyes.

This was the period in which the Hurricanes looked like the team that went 14-1-1 in 16 home games recently (they’re still an impressive 14-2-1 in the last 17, by the way). They had speed and tenacity, coupled with a palpable will to win. They turned pucks over in the neutral zone and used their strength of a quick transition game to their advantage, creating opportunities again and again.

Heading into the third period with the game tied was huge for Carolina’s collective psyche. After the beatdown they received the night before, with the second period ending 5-0, it must have felt like such a relief to be not just in the game, but playing well and controlled heading into the final 20 minutes.

Special Teams Mixed Bag

The special teams battle was, again, fascinating. Funny how that happens when you put the two best anything together—in this case, it was the Canes’ top-ranked PK against Columbus’ top-ranked PP. The end result was a strange collection of special teams’ storylines.

Carolina continued to dominate the best-on-best battle, having now won all 11 shorthanded situations against the Blue Jackets this season. They even managed to score on the powerplay, which the 23rd ranked Canes unit was desperate for. Sebastian Aho netted the goal because he was in great position to get a lucky bounce after some slick passing by his teammates.

But the Hurricanes also failed to convert three different powerplay opportunities in the third period, which is when their special teams’ skill was most needed. The powerplay unit has been the subject of a few questions thus far, namely regarding the strategy employed in man-gained situations.

In the third period, the Canes PP stopped moving the puck around with efficiency and purpose, instead electing to shoot from any and all angles—which often led to blocked shots. The last minute or two was a prime example of such.

When the Canes’ PP is clicking and playing confidently, they can work around any team. Ideally they can learn from their successes and mistakes in order to start stringing together a few consistent nights in which they create chances for themselves on more than one occasion.

A loss to the Blue Jackets was obviously not preferred last night, but the result tells just a narrow glimpse of the whole game. After a brief absence, it feels like the real Carolina Hurricanes are coming back. Credit Bill Peters and Co. for pushing the right buttons to get the team firing once again.

Next up for the Canes is a date with the Capitals in Washington on Monday night.