In a battle of the two hottest teams in the NHL since the calendar turned to 2019, the Carolina Hurricanes came out on top, defeating the St. Louis Blues by a score of 5-2. This keeps the Hurricanes in the third position in the Metro with 76 points. Both teams came into the game with identical 34-23-6 records and the most wins in the NHL since the new year. The St. Louis Blues decide to sit their rookie of the month Jordan Binnington in favor of Jake Allen. The Canes went with ole reliable Curtis McElhinney.
The Hurricanes got a pre-game bump when the four time heavy-weight boxing champ Evander Holyfield stopped by for a pregame speech. He stressed to outwork the competition and to always get up when you are knocked down, and that’s what the Canes did.
This game was a tough gear change for the Canes. The Blues are a polar opposite team of the Los Angeles Kings who the Cans beat 6-1 in their last game, a big strong team that also plays with speed. On top of that, the top end talent of the Blues including Vladamir Tarasenko can also beat you with pure scoring talent.
The Canes did a great job throughout the game limiting high-danger chances forcing the Blues to the outside. They also weren’t scared to put the body on much larger players despite knowing that it may not work out favorably for them.
Tonight’s game also saw the return of Haydn Fleury for the first time since January 23rd. Fleury looked more confident and comfortable than he has in any previous game. It appears the time playing a large role in the AHL helped. He carried the puck with great vision and was comfortable pinching and forechecking when appropriate.
Despite the strong defensive play the Blues opened up the scoring with a goal just seven minutes into the game. Vince Dunn threw the puck at the net and Oskar Sundqvist was able to deflect it low to high over McElhinney’s glove.
The Canes following champ’s advice answered just 41 seconds later. Despite Sebastian Aho getting kicked out of the face off circle, Nino Niederreiter won the draw to set up a cycling play that set up Justin Williams for the tying goal.
Justin Faulk and his new found wrist shot three minutes later made the game 2-1. Both goals beat Jake Allen high glove-side. With Niederreiter registering assists on both goals he now has 17 points in 17 games played for the Hurricanes; it’s safe to say the trade has paid off.
Two minutes into the second it was more of the same for the Blues. A long shift and the Canes struggling to clear led to the tying goal from the Blues. Dunn released a floater on net with traffic in front and McElhinney was unable to track the shot. The puck knuckled and changed directions off Colton Parayko, beating McElhinney and tying the game
Despite two straight power plays in the middle frame, the Blues were unable to convert — in fact, it was the Canes that was able to take advantage. While Brett Pesce was in the box for holding, Teuvo Teravainen cleared the puck to the Blues corner. Allen tried to play the puck but when rushed by Aho, he fumbled the puck. Aho was able to gather the puck and score shorthanded to regain the lead.
Heading into the third, the game was evenly matched. The Canes did a good job of limiting high-danger chances, but the Blues were doing a much better job at getting traffic in front of the net. The Blues had more of the chances in the third, but the Hurricanes were the first to convert to make it a two-goal game.
Jordan Staal scored his sixth goal of the year and his fifth point in his third game back from injury. Staal took a pass from Teravainen who was below the goal line and ripped it past Allen from the left circle. It was a beautiful setup and its great to see what Staal can do offensively when he has talented line mates. Svechnikov then hit the empty net from his own zone to finish off the scoring, making it 5-2 for the Hurricanes.
The top line of Aho, Williams, and Niederreiter were the difference in the game for the Canes. They completely took the game over and shifted momentum every time they got on the ice. They challenged every exit and often forced turnovers. The line was responsible for over 10 shots on goal which was well over 50% of the teams total shots.
The power play struggled again going 0-for-2 but the penalty kill unit completely made up for their shortcomings. Not only did they earn a shorthanded goal, they shut down a talented power play that includes Tarasenko, Ryan O’Reilly, Tyler Bozak, and Alex Pietrangelo. The Canes have a ton to be happy about starting a very tough stretch for the rest of March.
McElhinney improves to 17-7-1 on the season and the Canes stay in third place in the Metropolitan Division with 76 points, one more than both the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Pittsburgh Penguins. They now head to Florida to play the Panthers tomorrow night as they start a two-game road trip.
And Holyfield came back around after the game, for the first Storm Surge that featured a special guest, Jordan Martinook serving as the sparring partner that took the brunt of the four-time heavyweight champ.