The Carolina Hurricanes practiced shootouts at length during training camp. After a wild 65 minutes of hockey, that practice was put to good use, with the Canes opening the 2017-18 season with a 5-4 shootout win over the Minnesota Wild at PNC Arena on Saturday night.
Carolina started well, with Derek Ryan and Jeff Skinner picking up their chemistry where they left off last season. A couple of minutes into the game, Ryan nearly tipped home a point shot but was denied by a sliding Alex Stalock, who then got across to prevent Skinner from tapping in the rebound.
But it didn’t take long after that for the Wild to cash in on the power play. Noah Hanifin was in the box for tripping and Brett Pesce totally lost his man, allowing Jason Zucker to tap in a Matt Dumba pinpoint pass and put the Wild on top.
Five minutes later, though, the Canes’ first goal of the season came courtesy of the Wild’s captain. A Joakim Nordstrom redirection was stopped by Stalock, but the puck pinballed around and Mikko Koivu knocked it home for an own goal. Nordstrom was credited for the goal, which pulled the game even.
Thanks to a sliding pad save by Scott Darling on Joel Eriksson Ek, it stayed that way until just over a minute remained in the period. Chris Stewart collected a turnover and undressed Hanifin, who had a period to forget, scoring his second in as many games to give the Wild the lead back heading into the first intermission.
A pair of penalties in the middle of the second period gave the Canes a 5-on-3 for a minute and a half, and it looked distressingly like any number of two-man advantages that the sellout crowd had seen before: lifeless, stagnant, not at all threatening. And right on cue, less than a minute after the second penalty expired, Eric Staal converted a breakaway - read that again, it really happened - to put the Wild up 3-1.
Finally, the Canes’ power play converted to pull the home team back within one. Seconds after Stalock denied Justin Williams with an incredible diving arm save, Williams’ point shot was tipped home by Derek Ryan at 16:20 to bring the building back to life.
After the intermission, Hanifin earned his redemption.
Darling robbed Charlie Coyle on a 2-on-1 with Eric Staal five minutes into the period, and Elias Lindholm started the breakout the other way. Sebastian Aho led the puck into the Minnesota zone, skated to the bottom of the circle, and delivered a textbook pass to Hanifin, who made no mistake, going upstairs to beat the diving Stalock and knot the game at 3.
Neither team got anything going to end the period, although the Hurricanes had the better chances, the best of which may have been off the stick of Janne Kuokkanen with six minutes to go. It was the highlight of a solid debut for the rookie, who showed a remarkable poise in his first NHL game.
Then, with a minute and a half to go, the Canes sent PNC Arena into pandemonium.
Aho, who was the best player on the ice for either team by a country mile in the third period, did a pirouette just inside the blue line to shake off a defender and found Victor Rask streaking down the right wing. Rask made no mistake, putting the Canes up 4-3 with 1:30 remaining.
But then a lightning bolt gave the Wild a lifeline, in dramatic fashion. With less than a second left, Mikko Koivu tapped home a puck from a mad scramble in front of the net, sending the game to overtime with 0.3 seconds remaining on the clock. The goal was reviewed for goaltender interference, but the ruling from the NHL’s control center said that Matt Dumba was pushed into the crease, which prevented Darling from getting across to make the save.
So overtime it was, and the Canes carried the balance of play to begin the extra session but couldn’t find the winner. Neither could the Wild, who somehow bungled a 2-on-0 in hilariously inept fashion, Zucker somehow passing it to absolutely no one and failing to take advantage of a totally wiped out Canes threesome.
Despite the Hurricanes having practiced shootouts at length during training camp, there was still plenty of trepidation in the stands, which compounded when Aho’s shot was blockered away by Stalock to open the skills competition. Darling stopped Tyler Ennis and Koivu to start the shootout and when Jaccob Slavin scored in the third round, Eric Staal couldn’t beat Darling, and the Canes finally took the win, a few minutes later than they’d have liked.
From the Coach
Everyone got better as the game went along. You could tell early we didn’t have a lot of timing and we weren’t quite in sync, but it got better as we went.
Aho’s third period was real good. I thought everyone picked it up in the third, but the Staal line definitely picked it up and Seabass had a lot of poise with the puck.
With all the changes, it’s going to take a little bit of time to get everyone confident in their roles. But our depth is so much better. The Kruger line, you can start them against anyone. We weren’t so good on faceoffs, and that’s a credit to [the Wild]. We didn’t have the puck as much as we want, but that happens sometimes.
We were trying to get a timeout with seven seconds left, we didn’t get the timeout, then all of a sudden it’s in your net. You look at it and think it’s probably not going to count, then it does count. It’s going to be nice to take a day off, then practice and play again right away.
We decided during the first period [to put Slavin/Pesce back together]. We know we’re going to do that at different times throughout the year. We made some changes up front as well. We were trying to get going, playing from behind a bit. The rhythm off the bench is a unique thing coming off power plays and penalty kills. You’ve got to make sure your guys are playing, and when you’re four lines deep you don’t want guys sitting.
In the Room
It’s huge to get the first two points in the first game of the season. We battled all game long. Darling played huge for us.
[Aho] is a very skilled player. He’s got great vision out on the ice. Obviously Rask being able to bury that helped us out big time. But Fishy is a very good player and he’s able to make those passes with ease.
[About the shootout move]: I couldn’t tell you. It just kind of happens out there. I’ve just been doing it for a while. I couldn’t tell you exactly what goes through my mind.
I thought we kind of wore them down a bit. I thought they were getting a little tired. We continued to do what we were trying to do. I hope to see that throughout every game, where we put in the effort and in the third period it pays off and we start taking over game. That’s what we did tonight. We created a lot of chances and found a way to win.
It was pretty loud in there. The fans did an awesome job of getting us in it. It was a really fun game.
There were a lot of emotions [on the Koivu goal]. It was a tough one to swallow, but at the same time it’s hockey. There’s momentum going back and forth. It can happen fast. I thought we did a good job of taking a breath, getting into overtime, and finding a way to win.
- Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos (and his kids) were in the locker room after the game, as was general manager Ron Francis. The room was quite hot - it seemed like the air conditioning may not have been working - and Peters mentioned in his press conference that several players cramped up late, including Darling, who Peters said was unavailable to speak to the media on account of receiving an IV.
- Darling improved to 9-5 in his career in shootouts, allowing nine goals on 47 attempts. (Alternate headline for this story: Eric Staal Denied in Shootout, Team Loses)
- Aho was simply magnificent in the third period. Words don’t really do it justice. His passes to Rask and, especially, Hanifin looked like he had the puck on a string. He wasn’t much of a setup man last season, but if he can continue to build that facet of his game, look out.
- The Canes’ two-man advantage, on the other hand, was brutal. The home crowd is wont to yell “shoot” as soon as the puck moves to a new stick, but in this case they had a real beef. Credit the Wild penalty killers for eliminating shooting lanes, but the Canes just needed to throw something - anything - at the net and create a rebound. They didn’t, and it could have cost them.
- Peters certainly believed Darling was interfered with on the tying goal: “He wasn’t allowed to play his position.” As for Slavin’s shootout move and when goaltenders might catch onto it: “Shhhh.”
- Rask’s third-period goal to tie the game was his 49th career goal, matching his jersey number.
- Despite a horror-movie first period, Pesce was the only Canes defenseman to finish +2 (Elias Lindholm did so as well). Jaccob Slavin led the team with nearly 27 minutes of ice time, and of his four career shootout goals, three have been game-deciders.
- New nickname for Aho, as decreed by Slavin and Staal: “Fishy.” Please make a note of it.
- The Canes are off tomorrow, then hit the practice ice again on Monday to prepare for a visit from the Columbus Blue Jackets.