Fresh off of a disappointing effort against the division-leading Blue Jackets on Saturday, the Carolina Hurricanes found themselves in need of a win against the New Jersey Devils, a team that has had an eerily similar season to date - a 4-0-0 start followed by a tough slide in the opposite direction.
It was a battle between desperate teams at PNC Arena, and it was the Hurricanes who came out with two points - something to feel good about as they embark upon the final two games of their big six-game home-stand.
The first period got off to what I can only describe as an “unexpected start”.
Just 22 seconds in, Jordan Staal found Justin Williams at the blue line and the captain roared in and found a hole in Cory Schneider to give the Hurricanes an early 1-0 lead.
But wait, there was more!
All of eight seconds later, the Canes increased their lead to 2-0. On the rush, Teuvo Teravainen kept his head up and delivered the puck to a wide-open Micheal Ferland, who roofed it past a helpless Schneider.
The Canes, who had scored just two goals in 60:22 of game action, scored two goals in eight seconds on Sunday to get off to a dominant start.
Carolina’s play got much less dominant from there, though. The Devils were gifted a collection of grade-a opportunities and, while Curtis McElhinney was able to make a few needed saves, he couldn’t stop Pavel Zacha from putting the Devils on the board at the 6:33 mark of the opening frame.
A breakdown in coverage from Trevor van Riemsdyk led to Zacha being left all by his lonesome as he streak into the slot, and he got it up and over McElhinney to cut the Carolina lead in half.
From there, the Hurricanes tried their darn-dest to let the Devils score the game-tying goal, but a hodgepodge of close-calls and good saves from McElhinney kept the home team in front through the second half of the first period and into the intermission.
After a clean first period, there was a bit of a special teams battle in the middle frame. Five total penalties (three on Carolina and two on New Jersey) were called in the second period, but no goals came from it. While the Hurricanes’ penalty kill had a couple of dominant tours of duty, the power play couldn’t get much of anything going in terms of actual scoring chances.
Neither team could crack the score board in the second period, so the score stayed at 2-1 going into the third act.
An early power play opportunity in the third period for the Hurricanes again failed to produce anything noteworthy, and that trend continued through the period as neither team was able to get to their game. A lot of icings and an all-around slow pace of play.
For Carolina, that was more than welcome. The slow play catered to the winning team down the stretch and it ultimately helped the Canes secure a 2-1 win.
It was far from a perfect game for the Hurricanes. Outside of their hot start, they weren’t able to get much of anything going offensively. That said, they were able to clamp down defensively and help their goalie keep the game in control.
The Hurricanes will get a few days off now as they wait for the Toronto Maple Leafs to come to Raleigh on Wednesday. In the mean time, there will be things to work on, but they can at least sleep tonight knowing that they bounced back in an important game to get two points.
[On if not playing in so long affected him] That’s kind of been my whole career, for the most part. Especially in the NHL. I’ve gotten used to it. It does have its challenges, but it’s something I’ve become accustomed to over the years. It feels pretty natural nowadays.
[On how important the win was after the poor performance against the Devils] It’s great. That’s the nice thing about hockey, you get an opportunity to turn it around and come right back. It’s a big win for us. I think the most important thing was our start. That was the key to the game tonight.
[On if he felt like they did a better job at limiting high-danger scoring chances] Yeah, I think we did a good job at closing down. I think their grade-a’s were limited.
[On how important the first 30 seconds were] Well, that’s the game. We talk about all the time how you can have a good game, but it’s that one shift or you take a breath and it costs you. I think it was the other way tonight. We got lucky. I think they had their two worst shifts of the game to start the game and it benefited us, obviously.
[On how the team was able to grind the game out and make two goals enough] Well, that’s the positive of it. I thought, in the third, we didn’t give up a lot. We didn’t get much, either. We tried to limit their opportunities and played smart - smarter, maybe, than we have in the past. We got a couple of nice saves when we needed them. It felt pretty comfortable. It didn’t feel like we were going to give up one, but it certainly wasn’t our best game. That’s for sure.
[On how much pressure leaders like Justin Williams and Jordan Staal put on themselves after the tough loss] All the leaders always do that and they (Williams and Staal) are our leaders. The game last night wasn’t our best, but it wasn’t god-awful. It wasn’t to the point where you have to blow up the whole thing, that’s for sure. It wasn’t our game. Tonight really wasn’t our game, either. I really didn’t like this game, for a lot of it. I did like the fact that our guys were competing in front of our net. We didn’t give up a ton, but we certainly didn’t create very much. There was some of the game that I didn’t like - our second power play... it’s just... it’s not right. There’s a lot to still get better at but, at the end of the day, we got the win. It’s an ugly win, but you have to have those.
[On if the penalty kill is starting to get the bounces going their way] I thought it was better. I thought the first one was a little shaky. We seemed to do a better job on the entires (preventing clean zone entries on the New Jersey power plays). Every team in this league, once they get in and they’re set, they’re going to get some opportunities. I think that’s where we did well tonight.