The red-hot Carolina Hurricanes faced a tough challenge on Sunday afternoon. They had to take down a Stanley Cup-contending Nashville Predators team in an early time slot, where the Canes have struggled in recent seasons.
At least it was anticipated to be a tough challenge...
Behind a three-goal, four-point effort from Sebastian Aho, the Hurricanes took care of the Predators with relative ease en route to a 6-3 victory.
The matinee started with some fireworks, when Micheal Ferland dropped the gloves with Predators’ forward Austin Watson and laid a couple of haymakers.
7x7 for Ferland. Right now. pic.twitter.com/RfVem82UQ8— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) January 13, 2019
That set the tone for the Canes through the rest of the period. After killing off a two-minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that was tacked onto Ferland’s fighting major, they got a bounce and it led to the game’s first goal.
A turnover from Nashville gifted Aho a long breakaway opportunity. While the 21-year-old hasn’t had a stellar success rate on the breakaway this season, he certainly looked like a maestro as he beat fellow countryman Pekka Rinne through the five-hole to give the home team a 1-0 lead.
Put this man in the shootout lineup. Sebastian Aho with a breakaway goal on Pekka Rinne. 1-0 Hurricanes. pic.twitter.com/Vbsd0OlePz— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) January 13, 2019
With less than two minutes to go in the opening frame, the Hurricanes added a big insurance goal. Justin Faulk’s centering pass to Saku Maenalanen got tipped, but the big Finnish rookie had no problem sniping the bouncing puck directly under the crossbar to double the Canes’ lead.
On an early second period 4-on-4 sequence, Roman Josi showed off his high end skating and offensive instincts as he flew through the neutral and found Colton Sissons for a tap-in goal to get the Preds back in the game.
The next goal was going to be huge. Nashville’s early goal in the middle frame put some pep in their step and the Canes were in danger of letting the game slip away. Then, Carolina got the goal that dictated the rest of the game.
On the power play, Ferland delivered a gorgeous no-look pass to a wide-open Aho, who ripped a one-timer right by the outstretched glove of Rinne.
MICHEAL FERLAND. What a pass. Sebastian Aho with the fin(n)ish. His second of the afternoon. 3-1 Hurricanes. pic.twitter.com/s9HR8chhj9— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) January 13, 2019
Just before the halfway point of the game, Lucas Wallmark streaked into the Nashville zone on a 2-on-1 and sniped home Carolina’s fourth goal of the busy afternoon to make it a 4-1 game.
Not even two minutes later, the Canes’ power play netted their second goal of the game thanks to a pinball-like bounce with Ferland, Justin Williams, and Nashville’s Mattias Ekholm in front of the net. It was a wacky goal, but Peter Laviolette had seen enough from his starter and made the switch to young back-up Juuse Saros.
With the game then at 5-1, the visitors had an uphill battle to get back into the game, but a shorthanded goal from Filip Forsberg at the 14:29 mark of the second period sent his team into the second intermission with a little bit of hope in the form of a three-goal deficit.
The Hurricanes went into lockdown mode in the third period, trying to stave off the inevitable late push from Nashville.
Forsberg struck yet again with a slick between-the-legs chip-in from the top of the crease with 6:27 left on the clock in regulation, which turned up the temperature a considerable amount in PNC Arena. The Hurricanes have been prone to letting big leads shrink and disappear late in games this season.
It didn’t happen again on Sunday, though.
Aho put a bow on his team’s effort with a shorthanded empty-net goal with 3:01 left in the third period, thus completing his second NHL hat trick and his first since his rookie season. The All-Star had four total points when it was all said and done. His partners in crime, Ferland and Teuvo Teravainen, each had two assists.
A big win in front of another big crowd at PNC Arena on Sunday should only fuel the team’s fire even more. The Hurricanes have won seven of their last eight games and five straight on home ice.
Right when it looked like the playoff hopes were gone for this team, they’ve suddenly turned the switch and have been playing some of their best hockey of the season. To boot, they’re getting the bounces and the 50/50 plays going in their direction, which has been a welcome change after what had been an egregious stretch of puck-luck for the team.
Now sitting at 22-18-5, the Canes are right back in the middle of the playoff mix. While they still need to keep this run going through the next week in order to really make things interesting, it’s promising to see how this team has fought back.
They’ll look to keep fighting on Tuesday night in Madison Square Garden when they do battle with the fleeting New York Rangers.