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Systems Analyst: It’ll Take Seven

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Persistence, a clean zone entry and a heads up point shot set up Carolina’s game winner in Game 6.

Jamie Kellner

The Carolina Hurricanes once again have evened their best of seven series with the defending Stanley Cup champions. Tied 2-2 entering the third in Game 6, the Canes delivered one of their best periods of the playoffs, scoring three unanswered, including Jordan Staal’s game-winning goal.

The play begins with Staal winning a neutral zone faceoff. Pressured by an aggressive forecheck, Brett Pesce chooses to use a tight escape turn and indirect pass to kickstart the offensive attack.

From there, Justin Williams dishes the puck through Matt Niskanen’s legs to Brock McGinn and the Canes are in the zone. With the right defenseman, Niskanen, playing tight on Williams in the neutral zone, Dmitry Orlov, the left defenseman has to maintain his position in the middle of the ice. That leaves McGinn some space to evaluate his options upon entering the attacking end.

Although his initial try to Staal doesn’t go as planned, the puck ends up back McGinn’s stick. With his back to the play, he takes a quick look over his shoulder and, instead of forcing a blind pass towards the middle, McGinn wraps the puck around to Justin Faulk.

Faulk does an excellent job of getting his shot through, even if it doesn’t get all the way to Braden Holtby on the initial attempt. Instead of waiting stationary for the wrap to reach him, Faulk begins to walk to the middle while he receives the puck, giving him more options and limiting the amount of space the winger covering him, Alex Ovechkin, can take away. With his eyes up Faulk finds a shooting lane.

Staal does well to establish a netfront presence, but Niskanen actually plays the situation pretty well. He fronts Staal and even blocks Faulk’s shot, but Orlov is beaten to the loose puck by McGinn. The puck pinballs around near the crease, but Staal, undeterred, maintains his inside body position and torques the puck past an outstretched Holtby.

The Staal goal marked the first lead change of the series. The Canes would add two more and close out Game 6 with a resounding 5-2 win. Now this crazy homer series will head back to Washington for a win-or-go-home Game 7, in which Carolina hopes to become the first road team of the series to steal a victory.