From one night to the next, the Canes looked like two entirely different teams, but they certainly left their best for last and avoided what could have been a season-derailing weekend.
There’s not much to say about Friday’s disaster against the Winnipeg Jets. From the early moments of the game until the final buzzer, the Hurricanes were dramatically outplayed, mailing in an effort reminiscent of last season.
The red-hot first line flatlined in dramatic fashion. Nino Niederreiter, Sebastian Aho, and Justin Williams were a combined minus-15 on the night. Even beyond the top line, though, they were just totally dusted. It was over before it even started.
The 8-1 final score is Carolina’s worst loss of the season, and it was worrisome that it came in such a meaningful early-March game on home ice. On the bright side, they were given very little time to dwell on it. They had to jump on a plane and fix their sights towards another extremely good hockey team.
They had to make a statement on Saturday and prove that Friday’s outcome was nothing more than a poorly-timed fluke.
The Canes’ effort on Saturday in Nashville was going to be under heavy scrutiny after Friday’s disaster, and they knew that. And they delivered in a big way.
Less than 24 hours after having their, collective, worst game of the season, the first line came out of the box at warp speed. Nino Niederreiter netted two goals in the first period, including a snipe that no goalie in the NHL has a chance of stopping.
Niederreiter's first goal was just disgusting. Stole the puck from Subban and unleashed a 100% perfect shot. He has game-breaking talent. pic.twitter.com/A3zw7rRqie— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) March 10, 2019
The top trio had a combined plus-five rating and five points. Each of them scored at least one goal. Niederreiter has 11 goals and 21 points over his last 21 games.
The trade was one-for-one.
While the Canes ended up having a bit of an offensive explosion, it wouldn’t have happened without the outstanding performance of Petr Mrazek who, with his 31-save outing, has now won five consecutive starts.
There was an intensity level on Saturday that was totally absent from the Canes’ game on Friday. Pretty much everything that we saw from them on the second night of the back-to-back was what you’d want to see after how bad the loss to Winnipeg was.
They were able to dictate the game and play the way that they wanted to play, as opposed to letting their opponent get the upper hand on them early. Even after an extremely irritating and ineffective 5-on-3 early on, they didn’t let the negatives overwhelm them like they would have in years past. To boot, they even stepped up their special teams effort after that, ending the night two-for-five after going zero-for-three in the early stages of the first period on the power play.
Moral of the Story
The Hurricanes had an egregious game on Friday. Their worst of the season. That happened, and there was only one thing they could do about it - not let it carry over.
Instead of letting that game wear on them, they opted to make sure that was a one-off. The response that the Canes showed on the road against a great Nashville team in a tough environment was very impressive. It was a testament to the mental fortitude in this group and the excellent leadership core they have in Justin Williams on the ice and Rod Brind’Amour behind the bench.
After all of the emotional highs and lows from the weekend, the Hurricanes are right back in third place in the Metropolitan Division, and their playoff hopes remain very realistic and promising. Carolina will stay on the road for their next two games - a Monday-night date with the slumping Avalanche in Denver and a Friday-night divisional showdown in Columbus.
Every game and every point is hugely important at this time of year, and for once, it seems like the Hurricanes aren’t intimidated by that fact. They’re ready for a fight. They’ve gone through adversity and come out stronger on the other side. That’s what you have to do if you want to be a playoff team in the NHL.