Friday night’s matchup between the Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins at PNC Arena pitted a team that’s won the past two Stanley Cups against one facing the spotlight of a playoff race and meaningful midseason hockey for the first time in years. It started as you might expect, but the Canes found their legs late, slowly taking command and closing out a 2-1 win to wrap up their 2017 home schedule and move to within a point of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
The Hurricanes came out looking like a team unsure of how to handle a game of such high importance. The jitters were in evidence early and often, and the Penguins took advantage four and a half minutes in. Patric Hornqvist shoved Justin Williams to the ice with no call, and the Pens used the ensuing odd-man advantage to register the first goal, naturally from a former member of the Canes organization. Brian Dumoulin took a drop pass from Jake Guentzel and wired a top-shelf wrister over Cam Ward’s blocker to give the Pens a 1-0 lead.
The Canes were skating in quicksand for most of the first period, and Ward came up huge on a full-speed redirection off the stick of Evgeni Malkin in the low slot with about a minute to go in the first. Shots were 12-7 Canes after one, but that belied how one-sided the ice seemed to be in favor of the Penguins, whose fans were in loud voice all night and made up at least half of the crowd of 17,975.
But the home team made their presence known early in the second. Jordan Staal had a wide-open net a minute into the period and shot it off the corssbar, partially tipped by Dumoulin’s stick with Pens goalie Tristan Jarry way out of position. An early power play went by the wayside, and a couple of minutes later Elias Lindholm chose not to shoot in a one-on-one with Jarry. He must have known what he was doing, though, because five seconds later Lindholm set up Derek Ryan, who celebrated his 31st birthday by threading a needle above Jarry’s pad and tying the game at 1.
Ryan’s goal lit a fire under the Canes, who seized command of the game, and looked to take the lead on a Jaccob Slavin bomb with 2:30 left in the second. Ryan, though, was in the crease and shoved Jarry’s helmet with his elbow, negating the goal much to the consternation of the home crowd.
On the next shift, Sebastian Aho made sure that it didn’t matter. A pinpoint pass by Slavin, pirouetting around two Penguins defenders, found Aho alone at the left post and he made no mistake. Suddenly, all the fans who were booing thirty seconds earlier were cheering, and the other half of the crowd dutifully took up the booing responsibilities. Shots in the second were 14-7 Carolina, who killed off three-quarters of a Teuvo Teravainen tripping penalty before the intermission.
They killed the rest off, and picked up in the third where they left off in the second. Defensively, the Canes remained stout in front of Ward, who got help from Brett Pesce in stuffing Jake Guentzel on what the Penguins forward thought was a sure goal two minutes into the period.
The Penguins were again the beneficiary of an iffy call as Aho went to the box for nothing in particular three minutes into the third period, but the Canes killed it off, marking their tenth straight killed penalty dating back to the Toronto debacle a week before Christmas.
And in case there was any question the Canes had found their skating legs, Jaccob Slavin skated in to disrupt Evgeni Malkin on a one-on-one faster than just about any Canes defenseman ever. Slavin was skating so fast he actually overskated the puck, yet reached behind him to knock it away as Malkin loaded to shoot. It was truly next-level stuff from the Canes’ top defenseman, who was locked in all night, mostly Velcroed onto Sidney Crosby’s hip for the majority of his shifts.
Ward stood tall as the Penguins poured on the shots, eventually totaling 15 in the third period, making saves on pucks that he didn’t even see. But as the Canes end 2017 with a date in St. Louis tomorrow night, they do so knowing that they’ll enter 2018 with meaningful games remaining on their schedule and plenty of matchups with which they can control their own playoff fate.
Notes and Quotes
I thought we managed the puck real well in the second. The second might have been our best period. They pushed too, and they have that ability. There was good compete and battle on the back end, and Wardo was solid.
There was some mental toughness from the guys. You don’t want a lull or a sag there. You’re not getting that call against Pittsburgh very often, definitely not in Pittsburgh. We thought we might get it here. It looked like a goal on the ice, too, didn’t it? That’s one of those 55/45, 60/40 plays. If you got it, you wouldn’t be surprised. When you didn’t get it...(human shrug emoji)
Our team game is better. When our team game is better and in order, there’s more trust and execution, we play faster, and individuals look better. I think it’s more of a trust in the overall group and guys knowing that guys are going to be there. Slavin has simplified his game and has cleaned up his game. He’s more efficient. Instead of trying to do everyone’s job, he’s just doing his job.
We’re much more comfortable with our roles, guys settling in and seeing where they can be successful. Everyone has a real identified role right now, and it seems to be working.
I thought we had a lot of chances early. The game was open at times, with 3 on 2s, 4 on 2s, 2 on 1s. We have to do a better job finishing off plays offensively. There was an entry at the end, five minutes to go, Skinner ends up with a pass from Hanifin. Those are the types of plays where, if we can finish those off, it would give us some wiggle room and not have us on the edge of the seat coming down the stretch.
Start to finish, we played a really good game, and it started from the net out. Wardo played a heck of a game. Our forwards were moving, getting behind their D, and we got on them in the offensive zone.
They have a lot of high-end talent on that team, a lot of all-stars, and you have to take away as much as you can from them. They’re going to make plays out of nothing. We did a really good job tonight, top to bottom. We’re playing our game. We’re a fast team, and we’re using that to our advantage. As long as we keep doing that, we’ll keep climbing the ladder.
We just outworked them. We got pucks behind them and they had a hard time breaking out. Our D corps were able to keep pucks in, so we got longer shifts in the offensive zone.
It brings a good rhythm. Everybody is playing with a lot of confidence. Everyone can play against anyone right now.
Lindholm made a really nice move. It probably would have been a prettier goal if he had buried it right off the bat, but he had nice patience afterwards. I knew the goalie was way out of position because Lindy faked him pretty good, so I just tried to get the puck on net right away.
[The overturned goal] could have gone either way. I don’t know what the rulebook says, but I definitely made contact. It was outside the crease. I don’t know whether that matters or not, whether he initiates it or not, but it’s a fine line. I didn’t have to make that call. We were buzzing right before that, and you can lose some momentum with the review. It was nice to grab it back right away and have the momentum again.
Winning teams are able to handle that kind of adversity, and are able to grind their way to a hard 2-1 win against a really good Pittsburgh team. It’s something this team has struggled to do in the past, and that’s what winning teams do.
- If it feels odd to see the Canes winning a game over the Penguins, there’s a reason for that: this was their first win over Pittsburgh since January 12, 2016. Tonight’s win broke a seven-game Penguins winning streak, and was the Canes’ first regulation win on home ice since March of 2015 (!).
- Apropos of nothing game-wise, but this felt an awful lot like a neutral-site ACC Tournament game between two teams with big fanbases. Lots of back and forth action, the crowd was into it, and it was a great atmosphere.
- Can’t say this has happened much this season, but the second period was decisive for the Canes - and, for once, in a good way.
- Very quietly, Elias Lindholm is working on a four-game point streak. His moving onto Ryan’s wing was a defensive play to get him matched up against Crosby (and, more to the point, to keep Skinner from being tasked with it), but he looked great offensively as well.
- Cam Ward has earned points in ten straight starts. (Read that again. It’s true.) He’s 9-0-1 since November 10.
- Peters said that Darling will play tomorrow, as expected, but now it becomes an open question as to who will face Washington back at PNC next Tuesday. Unless Darling sets the world on fire against the Blues, you’d have to think Ward will get the call against the Caps, don’t you?
- And it was a good night in the Metro for the Canes: the Islanders lost in regulation and the Rangers lost in a shootout, so the Canes are just one point out of the final playoff spot. It’s about time that a break went the Canes’ way, isn’t it?
Rank the Performances
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