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About Last Night: Gut Punch

The Hurricanes gave up more than just a point in the standings when Detroit’s OT winner simultaneously took out Eddie Lack, but all is not lost.

NHL: Detroit Red Wings at Carolina Hurricanes
We’re with you, Eddie.
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s start with positives. The Carolina Hurricanes came back from two separate one-goal deficits to force overtime, continued their point streak, and saw Justin Faulk score his first goal(s) in eight games. But it’s all playing second-fiddle; even worse than dropping a winnable game in overtime was the loss of fan/team-favorite Eddie Lack, who is largely responsible for getting this team back into any type of playoff conversation.

We've been updating things in a separate article, but suffice it to say, the scene following the game was as heartbreaking and terrifying as any we’ve seen this season. However, Lack did tweet (see linked article above) that he was expecting to be released from the hospital late last night, and that “everything looks alright.”

In comparison to the scene following the confirmation of Detroit’s winning goal, hockey seems so insignificant. But there is still some to be played. Carolina maintains a mathematical shot at the playoffs, but adjustments—beyond the obvious probability of playing Cam Ward again—will need to be made if they are to keep their momentum rolling.

Help Your Goalie

By my unofficial count, the Red Wings had five breakaways last night, including the game-winner. That’s subpar defense, to put it mildly. The Hurricanes are lucky that Lack was able to fend off two of them, but the five in total are on top of the two from the prior game in New Jersey (plus a second period chock-full of odd-man rushes).

Bottom line? The Canes did Lack no favors last night, as epitomized by Victor Rask facilitating the Andreas Athanasiou collision with a horribly ill-timed/placed cross check.

But sometimes it was more subtle, like Jeff Skinner ’s turnover in the goal above (more on those below). Anthony Mantha’s first goal was also a gift, this time from Teuvo Teravainen—who had undoubtedly his worst game as a Hurricane—as he walked in all alone for Detroit’s second breakaway of the game.

The underlying issue here is the team’s mindset. Lack had clearly taken Bill Peters’ #MAFS mantra to heart, as evidenced by stopping four of seven breakaways in two games, but its unfair to be so reliant on him as the Canes had grown to be.

Complacency does not suit this team, and they would be wise to avoid listening to their own hype (says a guy who provides the hype, I know). Perhaps one small silver lining to the shock of Lack’s injury is a potential mental reset for the team, one that could help snap them back into focus.

Make the Easy Play

Both of the above Mantha goals came from atrocious turnovers. Teravainen’s came from poor communication between him and Noah Hanifin, while Skinner’s was a failure to get the puck deep. Both are simple plays that often don’t cost a team like they did the Hurricanes last night, but the risk is always there—that’s why there are alternatives.

In both cases, putting the puck in the corner was an option. It’s one of the safest plays in hockey, and 99% of the time is not a bad decision (if you’re coming down on a breakaway, obviously don’t put the puck in the corner). What it lacks in excitement, it makes up for in functionality as a feasible “Get Out of Jail Free” card if a player gets stuck beyond the center line.

For Teravainen, he could also have continued to carry the puck as he made a loop around the zone. He had space to skate and could have created a shooting lane for himself or a teammate. Skinner, on the other hand, could have curled back towards his own net in the neutral zone (as one would expect from a team driven by puck-possession) while he waited for his team’s line change to finish instead of trying to go through three defensemen.

What’s especially surprising about those goals is how good Carolina has been at making smart decisions with the puck throughout the year. Their neutral zone play, particularly in transition, is one of their greatest strengths, but their hands and feet turned to stone as Detroit used the space between the blues against them.

Is dumping the puck fun hockey? No, absolutely not—that’s why most people hate watching Canes/Devils games. It’s also the opposite of what a team like Carolina usually likes to do, but it’s a stronger option than the 13 turnovers they committed last night. It may not be their style to dump and grind for 60 minutes, but after a game that saw them do too much too often, the Hurricanes could benefit from keeping it simple.

Happy Thoughts

The emotional whiplash of that game ended on quite a negative, so I’ll end this on a few positives. Primarily, Justin Faulk did this to Dylan Larkin:

Smoother than freshly zamboni’d ice. As mentioned before, that was his first goal in eight games, and it was a crucial response that came with under a minute remaining in the second period.

Then he tied it again, this time with less than a minute in the game:

Faulk has always had an admirable ability to get shots through high-traffic areas, and while his offensive contributions from the blue line haven’t matched up to last season’s, he remains an integral part of the Canes’ attack. He’s also #clutch.

Elsewhere in potential future captain news, Jeff Skinner scored again (shocker!) to bring his season total to 31 and his six-game streak total to eight goals. He also has 11 goals in 11 games—safe to say he’s in a rhythm. And that’s wonderful news for the Hurricanes, who are 18-1-5 this season when Skinner scores a goal.

And even though thoughts of the playoff race and the game itself rightfully took a backseat to more pressing concerns last night, Carolina actually managed to gain a point in the wild-card hunt and bring their deficit to four points, despite the loss and the Lightning winning in overtime over the Blackhawks. And their point streak now sits at 11 games. Dream’s still alive, folks.

For as awful as everything seemed immediately following the game, the Hurricanes and Lack are still in a decent place. Lack seemingly avoided any severe, life-long injuries, the Canes actually improved their standing in the playoff race, and they have an opportunity against the same team at home tonight. It’s also the Red Wings’ third game in three days.

Carolina can take a big step towards being a playoff team with a win tonight—the two points being the obvious manifestation of this, but a win in response to a less-than-stellar performance and emotional finish last night would show maturity and poise in the young Canes team.