For the Carolina Hurricanes, putting together a complete game performance has been something of a mythical achievement. They have played spurts of very solid hockey, surrounded by shakiness, but rarely have they taken control for a full 60 minutes. Last night again the Nashville Predators, the Hurricanes took charge inside the first minute and never relinquished control.
In a 4-2 victory over Nashville, the Canes received spectacular offense, goaltending, and perhaps most importantly, effort, which has extended their points streak to six games (4-0-2).
On the opening shift of the game, Jordan Staal made an immediate impact. He drove the net hard and shuffled a puck just wide of the goal, but didn’t leave his hard-fought position. As the puck made its way back towards the point to Jaccob Slavin, Staal was in a perfect position to deflect the Slavin wrister past Juuse Saros for the first marker of the game, just 29 seconds in.
It gave Carolina a lead they would never relinquish, and truly appeared to energize the entire Carolina roster. From that point forward, the Carolina faithful were treated to one of the more engaged and active performances of the season from the Hurricanes. Crisp, creative passing and offensive structure. Scrambling and competitive play in net from Eddie Lack. The Canes had a level of engagement, as did the Predators, which made last night’s tilt an incredibly enjoyable affair to witness.
Later in the first period, the pressure from the Canes continued attack created another wonderful chance as Lee Stempniak beat Saros to a puck behind the net and fired the puck out in front. There, an awaiting Jeff Skinner corralled the puck and made no mistake as he buried the puck over the left shoulder of Saros to extend the lead to 2-0.
From there, the Canes maintained their 2-0 lead into the intermission, with Lack stunting a few rushes to the net which led to pile-ups of bodies in and around his crease, a fairly frequent occurrence on this night.
Early in the second period, Nashville caught a break as a rebound to the corner led to a bad-angle shot from Viktor Arvidsson which caught Lack off his post and bound into the net to cut the lead in half at 2-1. Often times this season, such a play has taken sufficient air from the Hurricanes balloon to mire the team in a daze. Earlier this week in fact, the Hurricanes raced out to a 2-0 lead against the Islanders, only to see it evaporate in less than one minute late in the second period with back-to-back goals that sapped all the energy from the Canes and PNC Arena.
There was no repeat performance Saturday, as the Canes responded with a final 10 minutes of the second period that was more of the high-end effort and execution which had marked the first period. As a reward for their efforts, Skinner again played the role of goal-scorer as he planted himself in front of the net as Slavin fired another shot from the point which was knocked down by Saros, but Skinner retrieved and lifted the puck on his backhand over the pad to extend the lead to 3-1.
From there, the pressure continued, but Eddie Lack made his greatest impact. Multiple times, he preserved the two goal advantage, including a few wonderful desperation saves.
Finish, Finish, Finish
The third period was largely more of the same, but a few wonderful saves by Saros kept the Predators in the game. As they removed Saros from his net early to get an extra attacker, they were able to strike with a one-timer from Filip Forsberg at the right circle.
The moments following this goal with 1:49 remaining were the worst of the day for the Hurricanes. Immediately following the tally, Victor Rask took perhaps the worst penalty of the season for the home team. His slash straight to the back of the legs of Ryan Ellis moments after the goal making the score 3-2 is the kind of undisciplined and inexcusable play that can blow a tremendous effort for an entire team. As Rask was sent to the box for the remainder of regulation, the Hurricanes needed to kill a penalty to preserve their hard-fought win.
Thankfully for Rask and his team, Sebastian Aho wrangled a loose puck following a wide shot attempt and was able to feather a pass ahead to Elias Lindholm up in the offensive zone to slide home the empty-netter to seal the victory.
The 4-2 final concluded one of the more complete efforts from the Hurricanes, and you wonder if the energy this team has received is a result of the revitalization of Eddie Lack in recent days. Perhaps he will hold the net as the season is quickly running out of track.
The Hurricanes do not have any time to enjoy the victory as they will take on the Philadelphia Flyers in Philly tonight. If the Canes harbor any ideas of an improbable late run for the final playoff spot, they cannot afford to leave many points out there the rest of the way.
They enter play on Sunday seven points in back of the Maple Leafs with one game in hand and with 13 total remaining. They also have the Islanders, Lightning and Panthers between them and Toronto, so a run remains only a remote possibility, but simply that opportunity seemed unrealistic a week to ten days ago. Perhaps we are headed for an exciting finish to the season after all.