RALEIGH — Sunday night was a must-win affair for the Carolina Hurricanes, and for about 55 minutes, it looked like it was going to be another one of “those games”.
The night after their exciting 5-1 beatdown of the Minnesota Wild, the Canes were chasing the visiting Montreal Canadiens, seemingly all night, until some late heroics transpired that only add to what has been an unbelievable season full of righting the wrongs of recent years.
The first period’s shot clock told a slightly different story than what actually happened.
From the jump, Carolina pummeled Carey Price with shots on net, but the problem was that very few of them had any real chance of going in the net. The few grade-A’s they had either got whipped wide or blocked by a Montreal player. The Habs dominated the shooting lanes in the opening 20 and kept the Canes to the outside with relative ease.
Not capitalizing on a Shea Weber tripping minor also hurt, but not quite as much as when Greg McKegg entered the offensive zone like a freight train and got the puck in front of the net to Brock McGinn, who missed the wide open net and couldn’t get the Canes on the board.
All of a few moments later, the Canadiens got a chance of their own and were able to capitalize. A turnover from Teuvo Teravainen in the defensive zone quickly resulted into a backdoor tap-in goal for Paul Byron. His 15th of the season made it a 1-0 game, and that score held through the remaining minutes of the first period.
Despite owning a 21-13 lead in shots on net, the Canes found themselves searching for answers during the first intermission.
And they didn’t find them.
The second period on Sunday was one of the most lifeless periods of Hurricanes hockey all season, as it took the home team 14:34 of in-game time to get a shot on net in the middle frame. On the bright side, they also held the Canadiens off the board, though it was less about how stellar they were, defensively, and more about how big Curtis McElhinney came up. Jaccob Slavin also saved a shot from Tomas Tatar from going into a wide-open net at the end of a sequence that resulted in McElhinney being down and out.
The Canes ended up with four shots in the middle frame, compared to Montreal’s nine.
There was a noticeable uptick in energy from Carolina in the third period, but as time went on, it just looked like a goal wouldn’t be in the cards for the Canes. Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen both had breakaway chances get thwarted by Carey Price, who remained perfect through the majority of the third period.
Then, all of a sudden, he wasn’t perfect anymore.
With just 5:39 left on the clock of what was looking like a hopeless game, a long-ranger floater from Trevor van Riemsdyk, Carolina’s ambassador for Hockey is For Everyone night, deflected off of a Montreal player in front and right by Price.
That was what pushed this game to overtime, and after a number of chances for the Hurricanes, who largely controlled the 3-on-3 portion of the game, it was Andrei Svechnikov who ended the hockey game.
Somehow, the Carolina Hurricanes beat the Montreal Canadiens on Sunday evening. In a big-time playoff-level game, the Canes dug deep, got a bounce, and ultimately did what they needed to do in order to secure a massive win over the Habs, who are now tracking slightly further behind the Canes in the playoff race.
None of it would’ve been possible, had it not been for Curtis McElhinney holding the fort all night, ultimately stopping 28 of 29 in the win.
Next, the Hurricanes will travel to Washington on Tuesday to start their home-and-home set with the Capitals. Another pair of huge games for the Canes, who continue to fly high as they near the end of March.
Trevor van Riemsdyk
[On how the game transpired] Obviously, we knew it was going to be a playoff-type game. They got a nice little bounce, for them, on the first one, and that’s playoff hockey. You don’t know if it’s going to be in the first two minutes of a game that you get the game-winner or late in the game when you tie it up, so you just gotta stick with it. That’s what Roddy said, especially after the second where it kinda got away from us and we got away from the things that make us successful. In the third, we really tried to focus on that. I thought we had a really good third, and it carried on into overtime.
[On his game-tying goal late in the third period] (I was) just mainly thinking to get it on net. They had a winger coming out, just to get it by that guy and hopefully we have bodies at the net, which we did. Then we got lucky, I don’t even know what it hit. It felt like one of those nights where it was going to take something like that to beat Price.
[On the slow second period] Yeah, they’re a really good team. You have to give them credit. They play with a lot of skill and a lot of speed, and that’s tough, but I think a few times we just didn’t put pucks in good places or give ourselves good opportunities. It felt like we couldn’t get on top of them or hem them in at all. We kinda talked about it between periods, and then in the third we did a better job of placing puck and keeping it away from Price, a little bit, and it led to more zone time.
[On if it was appropriate that he scored the game-tying goal on Hockey is For Everyone night] Yeah, I don’t know. I think that’s what’s great about this team. We don’t really care who scores and who’s getting on the stat sheet, as long as we win. I’m sure the crowd can see, we’re having a lot of fun out there. The crowd was great again tonight, and we fed off of that in the third period when we kinda built the game up and felt it coming out way.
[On staying level-headed through games] I just don’t think we’ve ever gotten down about a situation. We’ve had some tough games and tough periods where we’ve kinda just stuck in there. I think we showed that tonight, after the second period, we came out strong in the third and it ends up being a puck thrown from the blue line that takes a bounce and goes in. That’s kinda just the way the game is right now.
[On the emotions of the game, going back and forth with Price] It feels great. There’s no better feeling than when you put an effort out there and you’re getting all of the saves and you’re on the right side of it. Price was great tonight. I thought we had some great looks on him, but we just couldn’t find a way to get one by him. That’s why he’s one of the elite goalies in the league. This was a fun one tonight.
[On not putting a ceiling on what this team can accomplish] At this point of the year, all bets are off. As long as you get in and give yourself an opportunity to be in the playoffs, that’s all you can ask for and anything can happen at that point. I’ve liked the way that we’ve come out here. Some of our younger guys are rounding out there game. We got a goal from a young guys tonight (Svechnikov) in overtime. I mean, that’s a big-time play.
[On the dramatics of the game] I’ll say... A great ending, obviously. Super exciting game, good third period for us, but a terrible second. The first period was great, second period was awful, and the third period looked the way we needed it to look like and, obviously, overtime could’ve gone either way, but we got the big win.
[On McElhinney’s game] The goal we gave up was a lucky bounce. That was the only one they got. He was solid and made some huge saves, especially in the third when we were pressing and giving up a little. Both goalies (McElhinney and Mrazek) have been great.
[On Svechnikov having these big moments] It’s been coming, right? We have been saying it all year and, obviously, throwing him out there in key situations and overtime. You love the confidence that he has, he feels it and he has earned the right to be out there - you build and build. Huge goal.