The date was October 15, 1999 and the Carolina Hurricanes had just defeated the Vancouver Canucks 4-1 thanks to goals by Sami Kapanen, Bates Battaglia, and Jeff O’Neill. Since then the Canes have failed to win a game in Vancouver — until last night. To put that into perspective, the Hurricanes organization would appear in two Stanley Cup Finals, another conference final, host an NHL draft and All-Star Game, hire the best player in franchise history to be their head coach, and then draft a player born three months after that win before they won a game in Vancouver again.
Carolina finally left Vancouver with a 5-2 victory thanks to an offensive explosion in the second period. Team toughness was a major factor and a lot of relatively new faces lead the way sending the Canes to the All-Star break/bye week with two points.
The Good - Responding to Adversity
Coming off a tough loss to the Calgary Flames in overtime with overnight travel, it would have been understandable for the Hurricanes to come out flat. It’s happened numerous times and, with a rookie goaltender making his NHL debut, one had to fear the worst was coming. The Hurricanes set out to ensure that did not happen.
Getting the first goal of the game in the second period got the ball rolling on what would be a crazy 20 minutes of hockey.
A power-play goal gets the Hurricanes on the board in Vancouver. Nino Niederreiter buries the rebound - his 3rd goal in less than 4 games with the Hurricanes. Assists to Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen. pic.twitter.com/OEZi5iSFoB— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) January 24, 2019
Nino Niederreiter got loose in the slot on the power-play and tapped home a loose puck to get the Canes on the board. Since being acquired from the Wild, El Nino has been a perfect fit for the Hurricanes and his play is already starting to soften the potential blow of Micheal Ferland leaving.
After the Canucks jumped ahead 2-1, Carolina needed a lift and they got more than just a lift, they got a stand. Greg McKegg sniped a wrist shot past Jacob Markstrom to tie the game at 2-2.
Greg McKegg.... is.... BACK! Tie game. pic.twitter.com/6UdaMvWMlp— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) January 24, 2019
Already facing the adversity of playing a back to back after a tough loss and starting a rookie goalie, the Canes would need to overcome more adversity after Justin Williams was penalized halfway through the period. In what was certainly one of the worst penalties in the NHL this season, Williams was called for embellishment after he was tripped by Troy Stecher and somehow Stecher got no penalty at all.
Rod Brind'Amour didn't like it, either. pic.twitter.com/XHIM4KToep— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) January 24, 2019
Needless to say, this call did not set over well with Williams or head coach Rod Brind’Amour. But the Canes put up a gutsy penalty kill that featured some huge saves by Alex Nedeljkovic. After the penalty was over the Canes responded by scoring three in less than five minutes to take a commanding 5-2 lead.
With the position the Hurricanes are in with the standings they absolutely needed to have a good west coast trip. It took overcoming some serious adversity but they were able to do it and will go home with five points because of it.
The Bad - Simple Breakdowns
Last night was another one of those games were there were minimal bad things to call out. The Canucks did manage to score two goals and both could have been stopped with better defensive play so we will focus on those.
The first goal was caused by miscommunication between Trevor van Riesmdyk and Calvin de Haan as to who was supposed to be covering Josh Leivo. The lack of communication led to Leivo being able to get free and he redirected the puck in to the net.
Perfect pass from Stecher leads to Leivo's 9️⃣th goal! pic.twitter.com/7ZLIbQZOot— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) January 24, 2019
Vancouver’s second goal of the game was certainly one of beauty. Elias Pettersson created the tic-tac-toe play and would be the primary assist on Sven Baertschi’s goal. You’d like to see Justin Faulk take the pass away on the play instead of just looking lost.
So nice, let's see it twice. pic.twitter.com/3uQmtMV7sH— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) January 24, 2019
It seems to be normal for as good as the Hurricanes’ defense is, they always allow one to two goals per game that just leave you scratching your head and this was that goal.
The Great - The New Kids On The Block
If you are still wondering how Don Waddell got Nino Niederreiter straight up for Victor Rask you aren’t alone. Niederreiter has stepped in and made an immediate impact which is something Rask had not done in a very long time.
Let me make this very clear... it took Nino Niederreiter 8 periods to match the goal output that Victor Rask had in 50(!) full games.— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) January 24, 2019
The trade was one-for-one... https://t.co/tUMuJ4MIo2
Nino scored two goals last night and had a couple good looks for a hat trick. He’s earned more minutes and could prove to be a major steal for the Canes since he has multiple years remaining on his contract.
Another still relatively new guy who played a large role last night was Greg McKegg. All keg-stand jokes aside, McKegg has solidified the fourth line center role that Rask was playing in and other guys like Clark Bishop were trying to fill. With four points in ten games, McKegg has likely earned a roster spot in Raleigh for the rest of the season.
We can’t write an article about last night (no pun intended), without mentioning the ultimate newcomer - Alex Nedeljkovic. Getting his first NHL start against a quality team in Vancouver could go either way but he proved himself more than capable of handling the job. Stopping 24 of 26 shots, Ned was beyond just solid, he was outstanding. Before puck drop Justin Williams came over and gave him a tap and it must have settled any lingering nerves.
There is a lot of uncertainty going in to next season with Carolina’s goaltending situation but Alex Nedeljkovic with his play last night, and his play this season in the AHL, is certainly making his case to be in Raleigh next year.
Moral of the Story
From overcoming adversity to having newcomers take over the game, last night’s win over Vancouver was truly a team win. The Canes stood up for each other when needed and found the back of the net at the right times.
Now they get to rest and heal, with the exception of the Canes’ All-Star, Sebastian Aho. Carolina has cut the margin to just four points going in to their break but that will surely extend as Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and Boston all play multiple games before the Canes take the ice again. The Hurricanes continue to linger around the wild card race and this three game road trip will go a long way toward keeping them in the mix. If they can continue to play like they did last night it will make for a very interesting rest of the season.