RALEIGH — For five games this series, the Carolina Hurricanes have begged, pleaded, cajoled, and done anything else possible to get something — anything — out of their top two lines. The six players who comprised those combinations to begin the playoffs had totaled just three goals and 11 points through the opening five games of the Hurricanes’ first-round series.
Monday night, in Game 6, they finally came through, and the Hurricanes live to fight another day.
Teuvo Teravainen’s goal 1:56 into the second period was a beauty, tying the game after the Washington Capitals had twice taken the lead in the first. Sebastian Aho earned an assist, building on his seven-shot performance from Game 5. A key goal from the Hurricanes’ key players came at a key time, and started a comeback that ended in a 5-2 win in Game 6 in front of yet another standing room only crowd at PNC Arena on Monday.
If it was the last the home crowd is to see of the Hurricanes this season, they certainly got their money’s worth.
Just when the Hurricanes needed them, the Canes’ big guns answered the bell, and as a result they will head to Washington on Wednesday for a winner-take-all Game 7, a fitting end to a series that has been heart-stopping, in both a good and a bad sense, since the puck dropped on the playoffs nearly two weeks ago. The Hurricanes are now 6-1 in their last seven elimination games, and if they can improve that record to 7-1 on Wednesday, their reward will be a visit to Barclays Center at the end of this week to begin the second round.
The heavy lifting thus far has been done by the likes of Warren Foegele and Jaccob Slavin, which is fine, but isn’t what they’re getting paid to do necessarily. Teravainen and Aho combined are going to be making nearly $16 million next season, in all likelihood. The Hurricanes are trusting them to be difference-makers. Finally, on Monday, they were.
And it wasn’t just at even strength, either. The Hurricanes looked at least respectable on the power play, even if it didn’t score; Foegele’s goal came just five seconds after a power play expired, a man-advantage goal in spirit if not in practice. The penalty kill was significantly improved from Saturday’s horror show, powered in large part by an aggressive style from Aho and Teravainen. Rod Brind’Amour said after Game 5 that he found it difficult to say “good game” to anyone and, with apologies to Trevor van Riemsdyk, he was largely correct. That wasn’t the case on Monday.
The Hurricanes managed to avert disaster a couple of times. Petr Mrazek bailed them out, as he’s done at home for two months now. The Canes were the beneficiary of a quick whistle that negated an Alex Ovechkin goal midway through the third period. It might not have been the prettiest win, but it was effective, and none of it would have mattered were it not for the tying goal - and, by extension, were it not for the Finns snapping out of their funk at the most opportune of times.
And then, minutes after Ovechkin’s goal was washed out, Justin Williams added the insurance marker, a huge goal at a huge time for a player that hadn’t visited the goal-scoring column since April 2.
In a postseason full of lessons, the Hurricanes are going to get another one Wednesday night. More than half the roster is in its first visit to the playoffs, and they will be on the most consequential stage the NHL can offer for the first time. And they certainly have earned the right, coming from behind to win for the first time in this series - the first time either team has done so. The clock was ticking down toward zero on their season, but Aho and Teravainen hit the big red button to stop it just in time. If they can do the same on Wednesday, they’ll be on their way to Brooklyn.
This season has been chock full of never-say-die moments. The Hurricanes authored perhaps their best on Monday night, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.