The Carolina Hurricanes have climbed back into a tie with the Columbus Blue Jackets for the final Eastern Conference wild card spot after the Blue Jackets fell on the West Coast Friday night. To do so, the Canes had to win a tight, low-scoring battle of their own, indicative of the types of games this team was originally built by General Manager Ron Francis to play in and win. While they have not won nearly as many of those games as they would have liked thus far this season, any hopes for the Canes to make a last-ditch postseason run will be built on winning carbon copies of Friday night’s performance.
Cam Ward was given the net, after stopping 21 of 22 shots faced just the night before in Philadelphia. With the games remaining, Head Coach Bill Peters and his team showed that their confidence lies with Ward. He rewarded that confidence with another stellar effort, stopping 25 of the 26 shots he faced on Friday, including a crucial toe save of a Patrick Maroon shot that occurred in the third period just after Teuvo Teravainen had given the Canes the lead.
For Ward, who has been a pretty steady performer all season, his success on Thursday and Friday can really be directed towards the solid work done in front of him. Whenever the grade A opportunities have been kept to a minimum by the team in front of him, Ward has provided his team with every opportunity to win this season. And with having all three defensive pairs playing well and playing at minimum 16 minutes (Haydn Fleury played the fewest minutes on defense at 15:56), Carolina is able to meet speed with speed as much as possible.
The Canes scratched the scoreboard for the first time Friday with Derek Ryan, who had several chances in the first period, sliding a backhander past Keith Kincaid to make the score 1-0. The goal was Ryan’s 12th on the season, but his first in 16 games.
With his recent shift to the fourth line, there has been an overall uptick in the amount of offense created by the bottom line at times, and Friday was the best example of that yet. While Ryan had been quiet himself on the scoring front, his value in winning crucial faceoffs and aiding his linemates in puck possession has proven to be the most valuable attribute the veteran center brings to the lineup.
Although Ward and the defense was spectacular, even they could not bring Taylor Hall’s point streak to an end. The All-Star continued his 17-game point streak by tipping a point shot past Ward on the power play with just 33 seconds remaining in the second period, setting the stage for a familiar third period scene.
1-1. Third period. The story of the rest of the Hurricanes season is going to be written based on the outcome of tight, one-goal games in the third period. Last night they answered the bell. And in the final stanza, the kind of puck luck that is earned with positioning which Carolina all too often has missed out on fell their way.
After aiding in getting the point back to the point, Teravainen made his way to the front of the net as Brett Pesce wound up for a one-timer. With net front positioning, the puck caromed off Teravainen’s leg and past Kincaid for what would eventually serve as the game-winner.
This play is noteworthy not because of the tremendous skill displayed, but rather by the hard work done to create a lucky bounce. Following the lead of Justin WIlliams from the night before, and the pleading from Peters, Teravainen scored the winner on a shot off his leg. For a team that will continue to struggle to consistently score with the top offenses in the league, doing the dirty work and being the beneficiary of some fortunate bounces is going to be necessary for the Canes. In two nights, Carolina scored three goals that were directly tied to getting to the front of the net and staying there. More are needed.
Inside the final minute, the veteran leadership for the Canes took center stage on the ice. Jordan Staal, in his first home game since the passing of his daughter, was able to win a defensive zone faceoff in a 5 on 6 situation. Then, with the puck in the middle of the ice, Staal flicked the puck to Justin Williams on the left boards who escaped beyond center ice and deposited the game-sealing empty net goal with a backhand to make the score 3-1. While Staal received an assist, his critical work was just another example of how important his talents are to a team specifically building themselves to win game’s that play out like Friday night’s.
After the game, Bill Peters spoke about how the past two nights represent the character and style that this team can and must play to be successful. His trio of veterans in Cam Ward, Jordan Staal, and Justin Williams each showed tremendous heart and effort in the back-to-back. Last night saw Derek Ryan, Teuvo Teravainen, and Brock McGinn (who has, to be fair, provided this type of game more often than not in the second half of this season) follow the template laid out by the leaders on their squad. And if the Hurricanes are hoping to stay in the playoff hunt, those sorts of efforts must be taken up by more members of this team, not on an “every now and again” basis, but rather as an “every night” kind of thing.
Bill Peters shares his thoughts post game about the team's identity, guys getting to the blue paint, the play of Ward and the leadership of Justin Williams. #Redvolution— FOX Sports Carolinas (@CanesOnFSCR) March 3, 2018
With the tight race from now until the end, there are no night’s off. Carolina returns to home ice on Sunday at 7:00 p.m. against the Winnipeg Jets. Backing up the past two nights with another great effort on Sunday is a must with the end of the season rapidly approaching. But the Canes may just be showing that they have a little more fight remaining in them than they might have suggested just a week ago.