The Hurricanes picked up an ever-so-valuable two points in the standings last night thanks to a late Justin Williams goal and a 36-save performance from Petr Mrazek.
Let’s walk through the highs, lows, and head-scratchers from the shootout victory over the Penguins.
- Petr Mrazek - The Czech-born goaltender bounced back in his first start since the 3-0 loss in Columbus. Both in the opening minutes of the game and throughout the third period, Mrazek kept the Canes in the game with timely saves. As the Canes move closer to securing a playoff spot, you have to wonder whether the goaltender rotation would continue in a playoff series or not. With Mrazek getting the nod against both Columbus and Pittsburgh, he has the inside track to be the starting goalie in the playoffs.
- Justin Williams - The Canes captain is known as “Mr. Game Seven” for his ability to calm his nerves in the most pressure packed scenario in hockey. His goal with under two minutes to play in regulation showed that he still has that something special. His leadership, on and off the ice, is crucial for this young group and one of the top reasons why the Canes find themselves in a playoff spot with ten games remaining in the regular season.
- Andrei Svechnikov & Dougie Hamilton - From all indications, they’re good friends. We (and especially Warren Foegele) know they love a good practical joke. They both struggled early in the season. Svechnikov was prone to defensive zone turnovers and lots of penalties. He took six minors in his first eleven games. As the season has progressed, his penalty minutes have gone down and his playing time has gone up. Now playing on the 2nd line, he made a key play late in the game when he went down to block a shot. Hamilton struggled through the first half of the year but has been outstanding since the calendar turned over to 2019. Rod Brind’Amour will tell anyone who will listen that the Canes’ greatest strength are their defensemen. Hamilton’s shootout winner will only re-enforce the coach’s opinion that the ‘D’ needs to lead the way, even in the shootout.
- Some help in the standings - The ex-Canes in Calgary did their former team a solid by beating Columbus 4-2. Boston chipped in with a 5-0 thumping of the Islanders. Even with Montreal and Washington winning in regulation, it was a good night for the Canes in the playoff race. A top 3 finish in the Metro remains a very realistic goal. With a home-and-home set next week with the division leading Capitals looming, the dream of a 1st ever Metro Division title is still alive for the Canes.
Canes’ Power Play - The power play didn’t have many opportunities (more on that later), but they failed to convert on both chances they got. After Williams tied the game late in the third, the Canes had an opportunity to both secure the win and deny the Pens even a single point. The power play was lackluster at best, and also gave up a shorthanded chance.
In overtime, Kris Letang gave the Canes another shot at ending the game prior to the shootout, but the ensuing 4 on 3 also came up empty-handed. The shootout win makes up for the failure, but there’s no way around it. The power play needs to improve. The Canes power play has gone 2/21 over the last nine games. As the stakes are raised, Carolina must get the power play on track. Down the stretch and in the playoffs, those missed opportunities will come back to bite you.
Officiating - A few blown calls nearly ruined a classic between the Canes and Pens. Three minutes into the second period, offsetting minors were called. Sidney Crosby was called for tripping Sebastian Aho and Justin Williams was whistled for high-sticking Crosby. Only problem being that Crosby was hit by Justin Schultz’s stick and Schultz plays for the Penguins.
Later in the second, two more offsetting minors were called. This time it was Bryan Rust and Brett Pesce. You can judge for yourself if Pesce should have got the gate on this one...
Although these two calls were rough to take, the last very nearly cost the Canes the game. Aho jumped near the Pens blue line to catch a puck which had been lifted out of the zone. As he skated in, he was hit with a high stick/cross-check/interference which kept him from getting to the batted-down puck. Play shifted to the Canes’ zone and resulted in Letang’s goal which put the Pens up 2-1.
Even with the tough calls, the Canes (and Pens) showed some class by sending off retiring referee Brad Watson, one of the officials that called the 2006 Stanley Cup Final, the right way.