Last night’s 5-2 victory over the New York Islanders secured the first seven-game series sweep in the history of the Carolina Hurricanes. The Canes have now won six straight playoff games, going back to Game 6 against the Washington Capitals. They will play the winner of the Boston Bruins/Columbus Blue Jackets series - currently tied at 2-2.
With the 145th Kentucky Derby taking place later today, let’s go Win-Place-Show in our review of last night.
Place - Fishy
Sebastian Aho was the best player during the regular season for the Carolina Hurricanes. In his first year moving from winger to center, he thrived in the role and made his first All-Star game.
It would have been tough for him to surpass expectations in the playoffs even if he was playing his best. However, he struggled down the stretch and clearly has been nursing a knock or two that is keeping him from the level he was at earlier in the year.
That being said, last night - and the subsequent week of rest - provide encouragement that he might get back to his all-star level of play before the playoffs are over. Aho’s game is built on his skating. He was noticeably faster last night. For the first time in weeks, he was able to gain speed through the neutral zone and push back the opposing defense - for fear that he would cut right through them to the net.
Throughout the playoffs, his defense has outpaced his offense. Now his offensive game looks to be coming back. That is a very good thing for the Hurricanes.
Show - The Vets
After getting off to a slow start in the playoffs, the Canes veterans have taken charge during the team’s winning streak. In the first five games of the playoffs, Jordan Staal, Justin Williams, Teuvo Teravainen, and Justin Faulk had combined for 9 scoring points and a cumulative plus/minus rating of minus-5 During the current six game winning streak, they have 21 scoring points and are plus-28.
Last night was no exception. Aho gets credit for the first goal, but it is Teravainen’s decision to switch positions with Aho - along with Jordan Staal’s willingness to provide a net front presence - that leads to the goal.
Teravainen would get his 2nd point of the night by finishing off a beautiful dish from Warren Foegele.
As he noted in his post-game interview, it was a tough angle to finish from. Nerves can turn the hands of even the highest skilled players to stone in the playoffs, but Teravainen has a gift for keeping his cool and doing his job - putting the puck in the back of the net.
Staal and Williams combined on the fourth goal, while Justin Faulk got the primary assist on Svechnikov’s third period tally.
Everyone is contributing, but the veterans are leading the way.
Win - Rod Brind’Amour and Staff
The head coach was snubbed as a candidate for the Jack Adams award. That is a decision that is looking more and more regrettable by the day.
Brind’Amour’s decisions last night to switch up his lines after the first period paid immediate dividends in the second. It was Andrei Svechnikov hustling to get off the ice which led to Foegele streaking down the slot and getting the pass across to Teravainen for the Canes’ second goal.
Brind’Amour has been hesitant to change up his personnel on the power play. However, his decision to move Jordan Staal up to the first unit paid off last night. With Aho not taking many faceoffs, putting Staal in the middle solves that problem. It also means that the net-front is coming from Staal instead of Niederreiter, which at the moment is the way to go.
A Final Thought
Nearly one year ago, May 8th to be exact, an announcement was made that Rod Brind’Amour would be the next head coach of the Carolina Hurricanes. Don Waddell - named interim general manager a month earlier - had the “interim” label removed the same day.
In retrospect, Brind’Amour’s hiring did exactly what it was intended to do. The Hurricanes have played a different type of hockey since then. Back during training camp, some in the media thought that “Grit” and “Grind” were just tired cliches being put forth by a rookie coach who didn’t know what else to do.
With the Eastern Conference Finals now on the menu for the Hurricanes, team owner Tom Dundon put it best last night. “It’s unfair to boil [our success] down to one thing, but the truth is [Rod Brind’Amour] is the one thing.”