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About Last Night: That’s (Hurricanes) Hockey, Baby

Nothing says Carolina like a spirited win over one of the NHL’s best in mid-March while still eight points back of a playoff spot.

Jamie Kellner

It wasn’t always pretty, but the Carolina Hurricanes’ victory over the Minnesota Wild last night had more than enough thrilling moments packed into its 60 minutes. From Eddie Lack’s acrobatic save sequences to the numerous scoring chances at both ends, those in attendance got their money’s worth and then some.

Was it a must-win for either team? Not exactly, but it felt like it sometimes from a Carolina standpoint. The pace was not always break-neck but it was far removed from the lethargy of some other inter-conference matchups. This game seemed to mean something more to the Hurricanes, and that’s worth a discussion.

Leave it to the Swedes

How good were Elias Lindholm, Victor Rask, and Eddie Lack last night?

One scored the game-winner with three and a half minutes left, another extended his point streak to five games, and the last one made 31 saves, including this one:

That’s pretty good if you ask me. So let’s talk about them.

We’ll start with Lack. By his own admission, he wasn’t always technically sound last night, but he made #TimelySaves and more than likely inspired his team with efforts like the one above.

And that wasn’t the only time he made saves like that—he had more than one reactionary save on Eric Staal, several situations in which he faced a barrage of shots from in close, and plenty of traffic in front of him all night.

Without Lack’s will to make the saves he needed to, there was no chance of Carolina winning that game. And look who noticed:

Lack, like his counterpart Cam Ward, still has a ton of work to do with regard to his season-long statistics, but focusing solely on last night, he looked truly solid and confident in net. He showed his capability as an athletic, reliable goaltender, and it was nice to see that from someone in a Hurricanes jersey for a change.

Moving on, if you haven’t been paying attention, Elias Lindholm has continued his evolution into a phenomenal playmaker this season, and his 24 primary assists will attest to that. That mark is good enough for a share of 11th in the League in that category, by the way. And while last night’s assist wasn’t dazzling, it was an example of just how confident and effective Lindholm has become.

Probably the most noticeable change in Lindholm is what is leading to his stronger stat lines—his level of determination has skyrocketed. We see it when he scrums in the corner after the whistle. We see it in his tenacity during a 50/50 battle situation. We see it when he works to create options for himself and his teammates out of nowhere.

But even with his recent dominance, he always gives credit where its due:

When he was drafted 5th overall, his potential was well-documented. The question, which is the same for every draftee, was how soon and how effectively he could tap into it. After a down year or two (meaning he wasn’t a superstar yet), Lindholm is finally rounding into the slick-passing game-breaker he’s always had the chops to be.

And finally, we’ve got Victor Rask. During his disappearance from the scoresheet from mid-January to mid-Febuary, one had to wonder if he was nursing some kind of injury or other ailment. But since then, he’s quietly put up nine points in 12 games, which may not knock anyone’s socks off, but still is a nice change from the goose egg he had for a few weeks.

And last night was a gentle reminder of just how good of a player 49 is:

That kind of power move to the front is something to expect from a guy like Jordan Staal, but is gladly accepted from a scorer like Rask. This time of play doesn’t happen without confidence, and to see Rask go for it after the struggles he’s had is a positive sign of things to come.

Whether it was a discussion with the coaching staff or some new vitamin supplement, a rejuvenated Rask is a gorgeous sight for Canes fans.

Playing for Pride

There was a certain strange aura to last night’s game. Perhaps it was the Eric Staal element which, admit it, does feel weird with him in another jersey, or maybe it was just one of those nights, but there was a somewhat odd sense of urgency about the Canes. There was no playoff spot to gain, no threshold to reach, but their desire to win was far improved from the team we saw against the Islanders earlier this week.

Though it may have come off a bit confusing, it’s important to see the team still driving despite their place in the standings. And now, they’re in a rhythm. No kidding, hear it straight from the source:

I saw a few tweets wondering why the Hurricanes were still pushing to win. Admittedly, it’s frustrating to miss the playoffs once again, and maybe there is some merit to the idea of a 1st/2nd overall pick, but it’s so much more important to create something to build off of with the team that’s here now.

Why not push to the finish? Why not mess up some playoff hopes? Some members of the team are certainly not due to return next year, so why not make your final memories good ones?

And beyond that, why not win for the fans? The Hurricanes shoulder the primary responsibility of growing the sport here in North Carolina, and there’s no better way to do that than to keep winning.

Fix It

Giving up shorthanded goals is not great. Giving up shorthanded goals by getting turned inside out by the other team’s passing is even worse.

The powerplay should certainly focus on scoring—there’s plenty of issue there to keep them busy. The 1-for-4 count the Canes had last night should have been at least two, maybe three.

But they also cannot expect the other team not to take what they are given. And the effect that shorthanded goals, especially slick plays like this one, have on morale is palpable, and it’s crucial that this goal cannot happen again.

And as stellar and fun to watch as Lack’s saves were, it’s generally better not to force him into those situations. The defense was not always it’s usual sound self last night, and a team like the Wild will make you pay for simple mistakes. It could have become a higher-scoring affair if not for the quick actions of 31.

The Hurricanes have 14 games remaining, seven of which come against playoff-bound opponents. They have a great chance to see how they measure up down the stretch, or just to see how desperate teams still fight through game 82. The Penguins and Blue Jackets may not be going at 100%, but you can bet teams like the Blues and Predators, who have something to lose, and the Islanders (again), who have something to gain, will be hungry for an “easy” but crucial two points when meeting the Hurricanes.

Carolina may not be headed for the playoffs, but there’s still some exciting hockey to be played. Pour your drink of choice and watch the madness unfold. Next game is Saturday, as Nashville comes to town.