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About Last Night: Les Gagnants

The Hurricanes rode their new number one goalie to a needed win.

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Montreal Canadiens Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Curtis McElhinney dit non!

If John Forslund had broadcast last night’s game in French, you’d have heard that quite a bit, as it translates to Curtis McElhinney says no!

The Carolina Hurricanes rode the best performance yet from McElhinney in route to a 2-1 victory last night over the Montreal Canadiens. The Canes received a valiant effort from their penalty kill and watched their goal keeper put his stamp on the starter’s job during the victory. While the offense certainly isn’t where it needs to be for Carolina, it gave McElhinney a chance and he never looked back. From the PK and goaltending, to a goal from Victor Rask, and even a scare at the hands of Jordan Staal, the Hurricanes got the job done north of the border and get to come home le vainqueur’s.

Number One

The story from last night starts and stops in net with Curtis McElhinney’s outstanding 48 save performance. Noticeably calm in the face of lots of pressure, McElhinney was terrific all night with the only goal allowed being a fluky one that was blocked by a defenseman and knuckled past Curtis.

A lot of talk has been made about how the Hurricanes play differently with goalies other than Scott Darling in net and you need look no further than last night as a prime example of that. Going back to last season the team had more confidence in Cam Ward than Darling and now the confidence is in McElhinney. He is calm, cool, and collected in net and is making the big saves when needed. For example when the game was still 2-0 he made this great save to keep his team ahead:

After the game coach Rod Brind’Amour said about his goalie’s stellar play: “We’ve had a couple of those (games) go the other way against us, so now I know how it feels where the goalie just stole the game. And we need that sometimes.” One may interpret that as some slight shade at Darling, and if it was it’s rightfully deserving.

McElhinney has come in and won four consecutive starts whereas Darling has never won just two consecutive starts in Carolina. McElhinney has taken over the reigns as the number one goalie and Darling has been pushed to the back burner so much that he was a scratch last night.

Long term, is McElhinney the answer? Absolutely not, but as of right now with the type of play he is showing he is the go to guy for as long as he keeps it up. At 7-2-0 with a .930 save percentage it seems like for at least now, the Hurricanes have their long overdue number one goalie.

Penalty Kill/Defense

After the Hurricanes started the year atrociously on special teams they have started to come around as the year has gone on. The power play certainly still needs work at times but the penalty kill has been much better as of late just as they were last night. With Montreal pushing in the third period the Canes killed off two key penalties which kept them in the lead.

The has been a sense of urgency with the penalty kill as of late. Brock McGinn was the best killer last night getting multiple pucks out in key situations and as a group they got the job done when needed.

Everyone knows how good Jaccob Slavin can be when he is on. He’s the Hurricanes’ top defenseman and faces the toughest competition every night, but last night the defense and penalty kill was headed up by Justin Faulk. While he’s still had some mishaps this year Faulk has bounced back nicely from his worst NHL season last year. He was the second star of the game and with good reason. Blocking multiple shots and doing all the things he needs to be doing while wearing a letter on his jersey, Faulk showed much promise last night.

It truly was a group effort on defense last night with Trevor van Riemsdyk making one of the best saves of the entire night:

He also scored a goal by just making a smart play and throwing the puck on net.

If the Canes are going to continue to win, they need their defense to step up and shut opposing teams down, especially within the Metro division. While McElhinney is giving them superb goaltending they won’t always have that, and they need to continue to play at the level they did last night at 5 on 5 and on the kill going forward.

Victor Rask

No one skater can make the Hurricanes a significantly worse team but if there was ever a player who has a chance to make the Canes a much better team it’s Victor Rask. After a rough season last year and a delayed start to this year, many wondered if Rask was possibly on the chopping block with this being his last chance. It’s very difficult to judge a player on just four games but so far Rask has looked good.

Jordan Staal sent a scare into all Canes fans’ hearts when he left the ice with what looked to be a brutal injury during the first period. Had Staal not come back or sustained a long term injury the Hurricanes would have needed Rask to step up and fill that void. Thankfully Staal was okay and returned to the game, but regardless the natural filler would have been Rask. He’s currently winning 51.3% of his draws and while being eased back in the the lineup he’s already looked better than he did last season. Getting his first goal must have been a major relief and it showed signs of hope to the Canes.

The play was all set up by Brock McGinn along the boards and just a simple play by Slavin to get the puck on net, but Rask showed off his hands with a great deflection putting the Canes up early in the game. If Rask can find his offensive touch it would be a major plus for the Canes and could potentially fill the number two center role therefore allowing Jordan Staal to focus more on his defensive responsibilities.

Moral of the Story

A game against a team with a very similar record in the Eastern Conference is a team you need to beat and that’s exactly what the Hurricanes did. It wasn’t pretty offensively, but the team got excellent goaltending and now they get to come back to Raleigh with two points, which is what matters. The penalty kill stepped up big and the offense was sparked by a guy who the Canes need to find his offensive touch.

But the best part of everything from last night was the fact that the Hurricanes can truly say they have a number one goalie (for now) and there’s no question who will be starting the next game in net. It’s a question that has needed to be answered for years and while it may not last, there is at least some ease at mind going in to the next few games. Who knows, maybe it does work out and turns out to be a true Cinderella story.