There is no doubt every person in the Hurricanes locker room went through an extremely rough emotional challenge heading into last night. Less than 24 hours before the puck dropped last night the Canes saw their beloved goaltender Eddie Lack stretchered off the ice without knowing his fate.
Fast forward one night and the Canes had to play once again, against the same team, in the same building they had left the night before as losers in overtime. This time they got it done.
A complete team game led to a 4-1 victory for the Canes last night and there’s plenty to talk about.
Cam pulls an Eddie
On a night that saw the Carolina Hurricanes tie their franchise high at a 12 game point streak, it’s fitting that longtime Cane Cam Ward got it done. Since mid-February Ward has been a little sub par - to say the least - and that had opened the door for Eddie Lack to step up and take control of the net. With Lack going down in a scary situation Monday night, Ward knew he had to step up big.
No player on the Hurricanes has gone longer without seeing the playoffs than Cam Ward has and you know he has to taste it. For him to come out and perform well was good to see. Now, not to discredit Ward’s work, Detroit was on their 3rd game in three nights and seemed gassed. Not too many of their chances were great opportunities but nevertheless Ward had the answer for all but one goal.
There is obviously no timetable on Lack returning, but for now the Canes must ride Ward and hope he can shut down the opposing teams like Lack has been doing. Up next for Ward will be a series of very difficult games and the team needs him to find the game he had in November if this point streak will continue.
On the other side of the ice, Jimmy Howard has not been great in net. He let in multiple very soft goals and showed why he is no longer the starter in Detroit. That being said, he made a tremendous highlight reel save that is worthy of being shared. This may be a candidate for save of the year.
Jimmy Howard is outnumbered 2-on-0 in close but still makes a huge glove save. pic.twitter.com/lTJNHpZxEF— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) March 29, 2017
Will the real role players please stand up
Over the past 12 games we have seen most of the stars step up and lead the team but last night it was the role players who got it done. Lee Stempniak got the scoring started in the first period with a bullet past Jimmy Howard from near the face-off circle. Notice how Stempniak uses the Detroit player as a screen and gets a little help from a soft goal by Howard. Stempniak has had a quietly good season and played a good role as a veteran on the youngest team in the NHL.
Joakim Nordstrom joined the fun later in the first period with his sixth goal of the season. Nordstrom is a decent fourth-line player who gets most of his work on the penalty kill. Last season he broke out playing alongside Jordan Staal and Andrej Nestrasil, but now he is a role player with a rotating center man on the bottom line. In a game where fresh legs can make the difference, Nordstrom answered the call in his 200th NHL game.
While nobody would call Elias Lindholm a role player after his ten-game point streak, he helped seal the deal and start a new streak last night. Late in the third period, Lindholm tacked on a power play goal when he collected the puck in front of the net and deposited it past Howard. Lindholm has been just as hot as Jeff Skinner and has been a major factor in this 12-game point streak.
On defense, Matt Tennyson climbed back in to the lineup and added an assist. His partner, Klas Dahlbeck, also had an assist last night and has been noticeably physical for a solid month now.
Desire to win
How many times over the past eight seasons have we seen a Hurricanes team on the ice in late March play like they couldn’t care less? The team this season has had its moments throughout the year where they go missing, but for the most part the desire and excitement of winning seems to push this young team. No doubt it is easier for the young players to be motivated to push towards their first-ever playoff appearance but the passion on every player’s face when the team scores and wins is refreshing.
When you watch the goals scored last night it shows each player celebrating like it is a huge goal, because it is. From Cam Ward to Sebastian Aho the excitement is there. The team doesn’t need a captain to motivate them; they just need goals and wins. This is very nice to see and hopefully it continues going forward beyond this season.
Another win and another game with a point has drawn the Hurricanes ever closer to that final wild card spot. Twelve games in a row with a point has tied a franchise record, but the team faces a major challenge over the last two weeks. Boston won last night as well, which kept the Canes from creeping any closer. With the Blue Jackets coming on Thursday, plus a very difficult road trip visiting the Wild and Penguins next week, nothing will be easy for the Hurricanes.
Moral of the Story
In a must win game after an emotional roller coaster, the Hurricanes got the win and extended their point streak. Cam Ward played strong enough to get it done and the role players stepped up to lift the team past Detroit. Nothing about the past 48 hours has been normal for the Canes but they walked away with three points and most importantly, Eddie Lack walked away okay.
The next week will make or break this team. (We’ve said this before, but we really mean it this time.) If they can continue to come away with points they can legitimately be there to possibly get the final wild card spot. In order to do so, the Canes must beat the best in the game. If they play as a team like they did last night, and as they have for 12 straight games, maybe we have to believe that anything is indeed possible.