The Carolina Hurricanes undoubtedly play in the toughest division within the NHL. This requires them to face off at least four times with the likes of John Tavares, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Henrik Lundqvist, and so many more future Hall of Fame players. But there is one man who seems to punish the Canes more than any other.
That man is Alex Ovechkin and he made the Hurricanes pay last night, including the overtime winner. The Washington Capitals walked away with a 5-4 victory, but not all was a loss: the one point earned for being the loser actually pushed the Canes in to the final wild card spot...for now.
Whether it was just coincidence or a few loose bolts in the dasher boards, the puck took some lucky bounces for both teams last night.
From the very first goal things were off to an interesting start. Victor Rask received a very nice pass from Capitals defenseman John Carlson leaving Rask wide open in the slot.
From there the Capitals would go on to beat Cam Ward for three straight goals. Most notably the first goal of the game featured Justin Faulk getting beat back down ice and Haydn Fleury being unable to stop a pass in to the slot.
After the Caps went up 2-1 Justin Faulk hit a post that would have tied the game, beginning a trend of the goalpost proving very unkind to the Canes. To open the second period both Jordan Staal and Brock McGinn hit a post with chances to tie the game. What could have easily been a 4-2 game in favor of the Canes quickly became 3-1 for the Caps as Dmitry Orlov shot a puck off the end boards, only to get a great rebound right to himself where he tapped it past Cam Ward.
The Canes would not die though as they roared back scoring three in a row themselves. The puck luck continued on their fourth goal as Sebastian Aho forced a turnover and got in back to Teuvo Teravainen. Turbo then shot the puck wide but another great bounce off the end boards ended with Brooks Orpik deflecting it in to his own net.
With every ounce of momentum swinging towards the Hurricanes there was only one thing left to do: Close out the game. Playing with a lead used to terrify Canes fans, but over the course of the past month the team has learned how to win.
Unfortunately, the Canes had not faced the likes of Alex Ovechkin during that time. The best goal scorer of this generation once again put his team on his back and would go on to lead them to victory.
When the Canes defeated the Penguins last week they knew they needed to keep Sidney Crosby in check and they succeeded in that allowing just one shot attempt from The Kid. Facing the Caps you knew they had to do the same with Ovi and until 12:45 of the third period they did just that. But given just one chance Ovechkin made them pay. Jaccob Slavin failed to get the puck out, instead sending it directly to Nicklas Backstrom who one timed it to Ovechkin. A nifty deke and a backhander was no match for Ward as the game was now tied.
With the game tied the Canes had an opportunity to win it with a power play at the 18:05 mark. Alas the dreaded powerless power play failed to convert sending the game to overtime. Both Jordan Staal and Sebastian Aho would hit a post in the extra frame, setting up another Ovi goal to put the Canes away.
Realistically you’d like to see Slavin step up and never give Ovechkin a chance to shoot the puck, but he didn’t and another game was lost in OT.
Applauding the effort
While the Canes did not walk away with the outcome they wanted last night there are quite a few things to be happy about. Victor Rask scored twice and his play has been getting better every game since he was benched a while back. Meanwhile, Elias Lindholm has quietly now tied his goal total from all of last season at 11. With his goal last night Teuvo Teravainen has reached 30 points and is on pace for over 60 on the season.
Jeff Skinner has only scored once in his last ten games, which ultimately isn't acceptable, but he did essentially create the entire sequence that led to Lindholm’s goal.
You get the feeling that #53 will go on a massive streak here soon especially if he can be paired with some better line mates.
I know I shouldn’t be saying this because the Canes are winning, but why in the name of all that is holy is 34-7-53 a thing?— Brian LeBlanc (@bdleblanc) January 3, 2018
Cam Ward had his worst game in a long time last night and yet still got the team to OT. While he’d certainly like to have a few of the goals back, there is no reason to believe he won’t get the nod for the majority of games in the very important upcoming stretch.
The last nod goes to Jordan Staal. Let me explain. While you can easily look at Staal hitting the post twice and say he has to bury those pucks, let’s talk about the effort given to get to that point. We’ve all discussed Justin Faulk’s major struggles upon getting the C on his jersey but it seems to go a little unnoticed how much Staal has elevated his game this year. Jordan will never be the scorer his brother was/is but he has stepped up and become a go to leader this season, especially at home. Something just seems to be clicking for him and the Canes need that to continue.
Moral of the Story
The Hurricanes should have won last night. But it doesn’t feel like a back breaker in the sense that there were a lot of positives to take away from the game. They slipped up late and let the best offensive player in the NHL defeat them. With another massive match-up with the Penguins looming on Thurdsay the Canes need to get back in to a little more desperation mode and find a way to leave Pittsburgh with two points.
While a loss is never fun nor something to praise there is one ultimate ray of sunshine that came from last night. A sight far too uncommon around these parts and it is theirs to lose now. Only time will tell what happens, but boy oh boy, it feels so good to see this in January!