The Carolina Hurricanes were held off the scoreboard for north of 57 minutes on Thursday night against the Colorado Avalanche, but three goals in three minutes broke the game open and led them to a dramatic 3-1 win in Denver.
Carolina’s parade to the penalty box started very early. Just 56 seconds into the first period, James Reimer got whistled for tripping Valeri Nichushkin as he roared in on an early scoring chance.
From there, the Hurricanes went on to take five more penalties throughout the course of the game. As Rod Brind’Amour noted after the game, the Canes struggled to stay out of their own way. Not only were the penalties rough in quantity, they were being taken seemingly at the worst times. Right when the Canes were starting to really push the play, they’d take a penalty.
To Carolina’s credit, the penalty kill was phenomenal all night, but with a team as talented as Colorado, it’s not a matter of if you’re going to get burned - it’s when.
Brian Gibbons took the Canes’ sixth minor penalty at 2:44 of the third period - a needless high-sticking penalty. A little over halfway through the penalty kill, the Avalanche scored.
Gabriel Landeskog deflected Nathan MacKinnon’s shot through Reimer to give Colorado a 1-0 lead in the final regulation frame.
Penalties have been a problem at many points for the Hurricanes this season, and they certainly were again on Thursday. They can’t afford to take unforced penalties against really good teams and expect to win every night.
The key words there are “every night”, because on many nights they’ll still find a way to win. Last night was one of those nights.
Carolina’s best line for most of the night was the trio of Jordan Staal, Warren Foegele, and Andrei Svechnikov, so it wasn’t very surprising when they ended up being the line that broke through with under three minutes left in the third period.
Staal won a board battle (as he always does), sent a beautiful centering pass through the legs of Pierre-Édouard Bellemare that found Foegele, and Svechnikov was there to deposit a loose puck into the open net.
Jordan Staal with a great centering feed, Warren Foegele hacked away, and Andrei Svechnikov scored to break the ice and tie the game late in Colorado. pic.twitter.com/w6PtXf6Pdx— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) December 20, 2019
It was a huge goal from the star 19-year-old, who has constantly been on the scoring end of hugely clutch goals this season. His tally late in Denver was no different. It was his 15th goal and 36th point of the season. Over his last 25 games, he has 14 goals and 14 assists. He continues to take steps forward in what has been a marvelous sophomore season for him so far.
The catalyst of the play, though, was Staal. After going through quite the scoring slump through November and parts of December, Carolina’s captain is playing some very good hockey right now. He’s never played poorly, but perhaps his two-goal night in Winnipeg will be remembered as the start of some good fortune going in his direction in the offensive end.
A Goal to Remember
Fresh off of the shock that was Svechnikov’s game-tying goal, the Hurricanes struck again while the iron was hot.
Jordan Martinook delivered a bullet stretch pass to Lucas Wallmark, who carried the puck down the left wing, sauced a pass by the middle-lane-driving Brock McGinn and right to the tape of Jaccob Slavin. Slavin, born in Denver, raised in nearby Erie, Colorado and a former college hockey player at Colorado College, rifled a shot over the shoulder of Philipp Grubauer to give the Hurricanes a 2-1 lead.
Naturally, Jaccob’s parents, Robert and Wendi Slavin, were in the crowd for his big goal.
It was another highlight-reel play from Slavin, who has quietly had another excellent season with Norris-contender Dougie Hamilton on the top defensive pair. He is the steady presence that a player like Hamilton thrives with. They’ve both been phenomenal so far this season going against every team’s best players on a nightly basis.
Two elite defensemen on a very good hockey team lead the way. And while Hamilton’s offensive dominance has gotten him much of the big attention fo far this season, it was Slavin’s turn to come through with the big play.
What a moment.
Hidden in Carolina’s comeback is another stellar performance from Reimer.
After stopping 27 of 28 shots on Thursday, Reimer is now 8-3-0 with a .934 save percentage and two shutouts on the road this season. Over his last seven starts, he’s 6-1-0 with a staggering .950 save percentage.
I’m not sure what the expectations really were for Reimer entering the season. I think that Carolina simply wanted competent back-up goalie play from the veteran. Instead, they’ve gotten elite performances out of him and have racked up wins with him between the pipes.
One of his biggest saves last night came on a breakaway chance from Nazem Kadri. Reimer made the initial save, then he was helped out by Jake Gardiner as the d-man rushed back and batted the puck out of mid-air to save a goal.
Ryan Dzingel turned the puck over, but James Reimer made the initial breakaway save, then Jake Gardiner saved a goal by hustling back and batting the puck out of the air. Great stuff from the former Maple Leafs. Keeps the game at 0-0. pic.twitter.com/ugJCMw2RCL— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) December 20, 2019
That’s a bunch of former Leafs.
Moral of the Story
After securing seven out of a possible eight points to start the five-game road trip, it would’ve been totally acceptable and forgivable for the Hurricanes to drop this last game against a very good Avalanche team.
They could’ve lost the game in regulation, moved on from it quickly, and be thrilled about a 3-1-1 trip. That’s not what happened, though.
In the final minutes of a road trip that took them through Edmonton, Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, and Colorado, the Hurricanes dug deep and totally emptied the tank. They refused to go down quietly, tied the game, and were able to pick up two of the most impressive points they’ve secured all season.
It was a character-driven win, a statement win for a team that is showing its full potential. They went into the building of one of the best teams in the league, and they showed that they should also be in that conversation of the league’s best teams.
Nine out of ten points on a five-game road trip had never happened in franchise history, but it has now. And it couldn’t have happened in more dramatic fashion.