The Hurricanes have taken a commanding 3-0- lead of the Eastern Conference Semifinals with a Game 3 win in Raleigh. What a ride this has been. The run down the stretch in the regular season as well as the first round series against Washington was characterized by impact and contribution from the entire roster. But in this second round series, the Hurricanes’ best players have been their best players.
We can’t talk about the top players on the team and not begin with Sebastian Aho. The team’s top scorer during the regular season was uncharacteristically quiet offensively over the past month and change, something many people attribute to an underlying injury. His seven points in the playoffs might be the quietest total of any player in the league. But he certainly made his presence known in a big way last night with an assist on the go ahead third period goal that would be the game winner.
Sebastian Aho steals the puck from Robin Lehner, and Justin Williams manages to roof the puck and give the Hurricanes a 3-2 lead in the third period of game 3. pic.twitter.com/f3YA9uxNoS— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) May 2, 2019
This goal doesn’t happen without the forecheck from Aho and the incredible play to bat Lehner’s clearance out of the air. After that, he dished a beautiful pass to Justin Williams, a player who has carved out a reputation of scoring big goals in the postseason.
Aho was later rewarded for a quietly solid game with an empty net goal in the waning seconds of the third. Even when his offense isn’t coming, Aho is still an incredible two-way center who eats up big minutes against the opposing top line. And he excels in that role — his 12 takeaways is good for third highest in NHL playoffs.
A player who is much more under the radar than Aho is Teuvo Teravainen. He shouldn’t be. The winger is top 10 among playoff forwards in Individual Expected Goals For, and he’s top five in Individual High Danger Corsi For this postseason. He’s netted five goals and two assists in 10 games, yet it feels like he could have a lot lot more. With a good frame, a natural offensive acumen, and a tested two-way game, Teravainen is the type of player that’s built for the NHL playoffs.
Speaking of guys that we don’t talk about enough — Jordan Staal quietly has eight points (4g, 4a) this playoffs. He’s been playing nearly 20 minutes a night, second only to the aforementioned Aho and Teravainen. Staal doesn’t get as much attention as he should in the league because he’s not usually as offensively noisy as his older brother. But he’s showing us that he can produce with the best of them this postseason, and he’s making a habit of doing it in clutch situations (see the tying goal in Game 7 in Washington).
In the playoffs, your best players need to be your best players — it’s a cliche as old as hockey itself, but there’s truth in it. The path to success starts with your best forwards, and Carolina’s have not disappointed.
Oh, and this being a numbers column, this one made us do a double-take: