RALEIGH — 2019 might’ve been the most important calendar year in Carolina Hurricanes franchise history.
The club set a franchise record for regular season wins in a calendar year, they ended their NHL-worst nine-year playoff drought, they made a remarkable playoff run, they made memories on the ice that’ll last forever, and they’ve set themselves up for even more success in 2020 and beyond.
Tuesday night’s New Year’s Eve tilt with the Montreal Canadiens presented the Hurricanes with one last opportunity to make a 2019 memory, and in front of a sell-out crowd at PNC Arena, that’s exactly what they did.
Propelled by special teams brilliance, fantastic Finns, and an excellent goalie performance, the Hurricanes beat the Canadiens by a final score of 3-1 on December 31.
Noted former future Canadiens legend Sebastian Aho drew a tripping penalty in the Carolina zone just 80 seconds into the first period. 35 seconds later, it was Aho who cashed in on the power play.
Teuvo Teravainen and Erik Haula played catch along the half-wall and the goal line, then Haula drove to the net and Aho whacked home the rebound chance. His 23rd goal of the season got the ball rolling for the Hurricanes.
It took 3:48 for the Canadiens to get their first shot of the game, and it rendered an early equalizer.
Jaccob Slavin broke the puck out to Teravainen in the Carolina zone, but an uncharacteristic turnover from the Hurricanes’ “Last Man In” candidate for the 2020 NHL All-Star Game gifted Max Domi with a clear cut walk-in chance. Petr Mrazek couldn’t stop it, and the game was tied at one.
The Hurricanes got in a real flow as the period wore on and the teams played a long stretch at 5-on-5. Rod Brind’Amour rolled all four of his forward lines and each of them spent quality time in the Canadiens’ end. Jordan Staal’s line, flanked by Andrei Svechnikov and Warren Foegele, was buzzing, cycling, and physically imposing their will in the offensive zone every time they hit the ice. Habs starter Charlie Lindgren was busy, and while he had some close calls and occasional miscues, he didn’t have any more blemishes in the first period after Aho’s early tally.
A bench minor on Carolina for too many men on the ice with just over two minutes to go in the opening frame was killed off with a purpose by the Hurricanes, who didn’t allow a shot on goal during the sequence, and the period ended with the Canes outshooting the Habs 14-6 and tied where it mattered, 1-1.
Montreal mounted a much stronger push in the second period, to the point where they seemed to have the better of the scoring opportunities.
Mrazek had an excellent period, managing the game well and coming up with huge stops on defensive breakdowns. He was rewarded with another Canes goal at the 7:34 mark.
A rush the other way, led by Teravainen’s patience through the neutral zone and over the Montreal blue line, put Brett Pesce in position to make a gorgeous backhanded pass through the crease right to the tape of Haula. Haula slammed it home and the Hurricanes regained the lead.
Mrazek’s best saves of the period came after Haula’s 11th goal of the season, including one in the dying seconds of the middle frame.
Andrei Svechnikov attempted to make a pass that you should almost never attempt to make - a blind pass to the front of your own net. Phillip Danault picked off the pass and forced Mrazek to make a huge save. A goal with just 29 seconds left in the period off of that turnover would’ve really hurt, but Mrazek bailed the 19-year-old star out in a big way.
There were injuries scares for both sides in the second period. Martin Necas got a shot to the face in front of the Montreal net. It hit him right in the bottom lip, he instantly went down and to the locker room, and he didn’t return by the end of the period. He did, however, return for the third period after the Carolina training staff tended to him and repaired the gash on his lower lip.
A more serious collision involved Carolina’s Staal, Brendan Gallagher, and Ben Chiarot. Staal laid a clean hit on Gallagher, but the Habs alternate captain’s head hit Chiarot’s knee as the defenseman skated by. Gallagher needed attention from the Montreal training staff and skated to the away dressing room. He did not return to the game.
The third period was full of close calls.
An early high-sticking penalty on Ryan Poehling put the Hurricanes on the man advantage with a chance of cushioning their lead, which they very nearly did.
Through a crowd in front, the puck snuck through to the backdoor where an unmarked Aho charged in and attempted to ship the puck into the open net. Lindgren extended his glove back along the goal line and robbed Aho of what would’ve been his second goal of the night. The play was reviewed to see if the puck crossed over the goal line while in the glove of Lindgren. It was very close, but the call on the ice was no goal, and there was’t enough evidence to overturn that call.
Then, with 8:08 to go in the third period, the Canadiens appeared to have scored a game-tying goal, but Rod Brind’Amour challenged the goal for goalie interference. If he was correct, the goal comes off the board and the Canes catch a big break. If he’s wrong, the goal stands and the Canadiens go on a two-minute power play.
He was correct.
It was ruled that Montreal’s Danault’s presence in the crease hindered Mrazek’s ability to stop Poehling’s shot. Pesce was also in the vicinity, but it was determined that he didn’t play a significant role in Danault’s initiation of contact with Mrazek.
The goal came off the board, the crowd thanked their lucky stars, and play continued in the third period.
With under four minutes to go in the third period, the Habs caught a massive break. Shea Weber delivered a rather deliberate cross-check to the back of Necas. No call was made. As these things go, just moments later, Ryan Dzingel’s stick went up high on Jeff Petry. He was whistled for high-sticking.
Another stellar penalty kill from the Hurricanes nullified the penalty. As Dzingel left the box, Lucas Wallmark cleared the puck 185 feet down the ice. Dzingel won the race to the puck and eventually sniped an empty-netter from a tough angle along the boards to clinch a big win.
Special teams made the difference on New Year’s Eve. The Canes killed off all three penalties that they took and gave up very little to the Habs in the process. On the man advantage, Carolina went one-for-two thanks to Aho’s early tally, so the Canes finished plus-one in that department, which ended up being the deciding factor.
Mrazek stopped 29 of 30 shots in a great performance against the team he also beat on opening night back in October. Teravainen (two assists) and Haula (one goal, one assist) both had multi-point nights. Wallmark’s assist on the empty-net goal extended his career-long point streak to seven games.
With the win, the Hurricanes are now 24-14-2 on the season. Tuesday night’s win was their 54th regular season win in the 2019 calendar year, a new franchise record that sits only two wins behind the reigning Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues for most wins from an NHL team in 2019.
The Canes will hit the ice again on Friday night in what should be a heated rematch against the Washington Capitals, who fell to the Hurricanes on Saturday night and have lost both games against the Canes this season.
(On his pass to Haula for the eventual GWG) I saw the 3-on-2 happening, saw Turbo with the net, drove to the net, and just kinda threw (the puck) to the side, and luckily (Haula) was there. It was a nice play.
(On the penalty kill bouncing back) Obviously, we’ve had a few down games (with the penalty kill). We take pride in our kill, so it’s nice to get back on track.
(On the overturned MTL goal) I was telling Dean (Chynoweth) that there’s no way. He was holding my stick and kinda just pushing me in. Personally, I was part of the play, so I was hoping they’d overturn it.
(On the crowd) It’s awesome. They’re unbelievable every night. We take pride in our crowd. I’m thankful they’re there.
(On what’s next after the New Year’s Eve win) Just looking to the next game. We know this is a big month for us. We have a lot of home games, and we know what we have to do.
(On the game) Two teams trying to do the same thing. Both teams want to play a fast game, and that works for us.
(On the penalty kill bouncing back) It was good. Lately, we’ve given up a few goals. We always just focus on the next game, and today was good. It starts with the goalie, these two goalies (Mrazek and Reimer) are hot, so we have the confidence to put the pressure on them (the opponent). We can count on them (Mrazek or Reimer) to make a save.
(On Teravainen) Four years, I think (we’ve been together). He’s been really good for us. He had a good game tonight, and he’s a great player.
(On playing in front of his home crowd) It’s the best feeling, playing here. Good crowd, it’s loud out there and we get a lot of energy from that.
(On the impact of special teams in the win) It was the difference, the special teams. The penalty kill was solid. The power play got one, and they really should’ve gotten two. (Lindgren) made a great save on the other one. That was difference in the game.
(On Haula’s impact) He’s done an incredible job all year. It’s unfortunate he had to miss a month there. He really solidifies our lineup when we have a center position like that. That line (Dzingel-Haula-Necas) has been really effective all year, and lately especially now that he’s back. He still banged up a little, so I think he’ll get better when he gets his speed up because he’s missed a lot of time. He’s a big part of what we’re doing.
(On the crowd) Our crowd’s great. I think they feed off of it a lot. This game had its moments, but it also had a lot of dead moments because of the whistles and things. But game was really fast. Montreal is probably the fastest team we’ve played all year. They got to us early, you could see we weren’t quite up to speed. It was an exciting game, but the crowd is always great. It’s a great place to play. The guys love it, and obviously the relationship between our fans and the players is unique and special.
(On Teravainen’s turnover on the MTL goal and how he bounced back to have a great game) That was a tough one. He’s trying to make a play and the guy picks his pocket. That’s a good play by them. He’s so good. He’s so good for us. All the little things that nobody really notices - you guys do now because you’ve been seeing him for a long time - but he doesn’t get much credit for. The defensive plays, the sticks on pucks that are almost in our net, then there’s a little stick play. I just can’t say enough about him. If he’s not one of our most valuable players, I don’t know who is.
(On Hamilton’s All-Star nomination) Well deserved, obviously. I think there’s a couple of other guys who could’ve gotten in there, as well. I think Teravainen is one of those guys who could easily be in there just based on how he’s played for us and what he means to us. But for Dougie, you can’t say enough about where his game has come and what he means to our whole group.