You know, for a second there, it seemed like they might do it. The Carolina Hurricanes had their chance to truly steal a game in an arena that has been far from kind to them in the past, but had it slip away in the dying moments of regulation time and opening moments of extra time.
The game went from one the Canes had no business winning to one that was theirs to lose, and lose they did. So here’s a few thoughts on how it went down.
What Happened in the First?
The Hurricanes came out flat and very nearly played themselves out of the game in the first twenty minutes. Fortunately, they somehow managed to avoid a worse scoreline, but the shot totals were...sub-optimal.
You can’t put up four shots in 20 minutes (and then some) and expect good things. And beyond the statistics, things didn’t look much better. Aside from a Sebastian Aho chance in the opening minute of the game, the team failed to create much in the Flyers’ zone and found themselves hemmed in their own on more than one occasion.
The Canes biggest strength in their win over Nashville was their quickness at the outset of each period—the players themselves actually spoke to the importance of landing the first punch—and it was clear that the lack thereof cost them in Philly.
The Comeback Kids
The Canes gave us something we haven’t always seen from them this year—a timely(!) response. The benefit to having a shaky first period is that you get two more frames to right the ship. Luckily, the deficit was merely one goal, and Jeff Skinner’s third goal in two games got them back on the right foot.
Skinner is now four goals shy of his third thirty goal season, and two goals (and points) from matching last year’s personal goal/point totals. He’s been buzzing as of late, and continues to be Carolina’s go-to guy for a clutch goal or two.
Not to be outdone, Elias Lindholm might have given us the snipe of the year by a Canes player.
We’ve heard before about how good Lindholm’s release is, but that shot made lightning look slow. John Forslund doesn’t even have “Lindholm” out of his mouth before the puck is off the bar and straight down behind the goal line. We’ll take a few more orders of that, Lindy.
And the feed from below the goal line by Phil Di Giuseppe was impressive in its own right. He could just as easily have blindly thrown it in front of the net, but picking his head up and making the best choice shows how his confidence has progressed in his young career.
The Hurricanes put themselves behind the eight ball in a big way with terrible opening period, but whatever Bill Peters’ intermission motivational speech entailed should be kept in his back pocket for future use.
And don’t dismiss the importance of the players who scored—Skinner is probably the leading candidate for the captaincy, and Lindholm is rounding out his best season as a Hurricane and developing into an elite playmaker. The current and future leaders of the Hurricanes are taking shape, and hopefully the higher-ups are taking notice.
It’s Staal Good...Until the Last Minute
One other guy on that leadership tree is the aged veteran of the forward contingent, Jordan Staal. He turned what had been a back-and-forth third period into Carolina’s moment of truth with this goal:
Hm, Lindholm to Staal from below the goal line for a PPG. Sounds familiar. Oh right, we’ve seen this twice already this season. Hey, if it ain’t broke...
So, one-goal lead halfway through the third, easy sailing, right? You’d think so, even after a couple of questionable penalty calls didn’t bite the Canes in the rear.
But remember, these are the Hurricanes we’re talking about. Eventually, the other shoe has to drop. Sebastian Aho’s penalty in the final minutes of the game seemed innocuous at first—he’s just trying to win the face-off ref, let him use his hand!-—but bounces were not kind to Carolina.
We’ve seen the Hurricanes give up third period leads numerous times this season, and this one felt inevitable. And of course, it was a shot from below the goal line that somehow found its way past Cam Ward, so cover that piece on your Canes narrative bingo board.
The point remains: for all the positive strides the Canes made in the past week, they still have a few long-standing dragons to slay to take that next step.
I can’t recall a more “Hurricane-y” game. They forget how to play hockey for part of it, then suddenly play lights-out, seem to have it in control, and finally give up a weird/soft goal before losing in some form of extra time. It’s a painful archetype, but a well-earned one. The positive takeaway is that they have three more games in this road swing to build good habits for playing away from PNC.
Next up on the farewell tour to the 2016-17 season is a date with the Panthers, who have also given the Hurricanes fits in their home building.