What a crazy night it was in Toronto.
The Hurricanes beat the Maple Leafs 6-3 despite playing nearly half the game with emergency backup goalie David Ayres, avenging a wild 8-6 loss to Toronto earlier in the season in an even wilder way. The 42-year old Ayres made eight saves for the Canes, and he became the oldest goalie to ever win his NHL debut, which came on Hockey Night in Canada to make things even sweeter.
An unbelievable storybook night
On a day where Alex Ovechkin scored his 700th goal, the leading story around the league, and honestly all of sports, was the story of Ayres’ unlikely heroics to help the Canes secure a road win in Toronto.
Everything about this story is cool. Ayres is 42-years old and finally got to fulfill a dream of playing in the NHL. He’s an operations manager and Zamboni driver at an athletics facility. He’s also a survivor of a kidney transplant. And Saturday night in Toronto, he became a winning NHL goaltender.
Ayres entered the game with nearly nine minutes left in the second period and the Canes up 3-1. Carolina made it 4-1 before Ayres ever faced a shot, giving the emergency backup goalie a lead to work with. Ayres was welcomed to the NHL with a wrister off the stick of John Tavares, which pulled the Maple Leafs to within two goals as Ayers couldn’t stop the first shot he faced.
The next shot Ayres saw went just the same, as Pierre Engvall wristed one past the Canes’ newest goalie to make it a one-goal game. But after allowing goals on each of the first two shots he faced, Ayres wouldn’t be beaten again. His first save came on a shot from Auston Matthews, and he stopped all eight shot attempts Toronto threw at him after the Engvall goal.
David Ayres. 10-bell save. pic.twitter.com/aTpvnU6Am1— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) February 23, 2020
To get into a game as a 42-year old emergency backup goalie is one thing. To win that game, while making eight saves and posting a scoreless third period, is another thing. It was a night that Ayres, Hurricanes fans and the hockey community as a whole won’t forget. It was one of those moments that makes you appreciate how cool sports can be.
A memory we'll all have forever pic.twitter.com/LUxqs8o3Wr— Carolina Hurricanes (@Canes) February 23, 2020
He played less than 30 minutes of hockey for the team, wearing blue goalie pads nonetheless, but Ayres has written himself into the history books of the Carolina Hurricanes. The team is already selling Ayres merchandise, with the money going to some good places.
Dave will be getting royalties, but we are also working with him to identify a kidney foundation that will receive a portion of the proceeds https://t.co/RwSNg12DA4— Carolina Hurricanes (@Canes) February 23, 2020
And now let’s talk about the Hurricanes’ professional hockey players
What Ayres did Saturday night was downright amazing, but don’t let it overshadow the way the actual members of the Carolina Hurricanes played in the game. Carolina scored six goals and put up a staggering 47 shots on goal in the win, and that offensive performance was needed on a night where three different guys played in the Canes’ net.
Warren Foegele had his first multi-goal game since December, and just his third of the year, as he tallied to make it 3-1 in the second period and then scored an all-important goal early in the third to make it 5-3 after the Maple Leafs had rattled off back-to-back goals against Ayres.
Keep fighting boys!! pic.twitter.com/TBtwGxo8bJ— Carolina Hurricanes (@Canes) February 23, 2020
Nino Niederreiter, Lucas Wallmark, Teuvo Teravainen and Martin Necas all added goals to Foegele’s two, as the Canes offense was really humming and finding good chances. It would have been an easy loss to write off with an emergency backup in net, but the Canes played a great game of hockey and didn’t let that happen.
Andrei Svechnikov and Sebastian Aho both extended point streaks with assists on Teravainen’s second-period goal. For Svechnikov, the apple extended his run to a career-best 10 games. Aho’s assist moved his point streak to 12 games, matching his career best and extending the longest active streak in the NHL.
What the Canes did a really great job of Saturday night was protecting Ayres. Carolina didn’t give into the truly unique situation, and played smart and active hockey for the 28 minutes Ayres was in net. The emergency backup only faced 10 shots, as the Canes were able to limit the chances Toronto could give him.
The bad news
While it was a fun and unusual win for the Canes Saturday night, the losses the team took on the ice may outweigh the good times. The reason Ayres found the ice was that both James Reimer and Petr Mrazek took injuries in the game, something the Canes really didn’t need at this point in the season.
To add onto the goalie injuries, Canes’ defenseman Brett Pesce got hurt in the second period and never returned. Pesce has been one of Carolina’s best players all season, and with blueliner Dougie Hamilton already sidelined with injury, he’s a guy the Canes couldn’t afford to lose.
The very bad news comes on the Reimer and Pesce front, as Rod Brind’Amour said the two may be out awhile.
Brind’Amour says Reimer and Pesce will be out awhile, not sure on Mrazek.— Lance Hornby (@sunhornby) February 23, 2020
The Hurricanes have a good goalie in Charlotte in Alex Nedeljkovic, but he’s not a guy the Canes are going to want to throw out there in the NHL every night. Losing two goalies in one night is a hard pill to swallow, and hopefully for the Canes at least one of them isn’t sidelined for too long.
A feel-good story and a solid 6-3 win highlighted the Canes trip to Toronto, but the big picture took a big hit with the losses of Pesce, Mrazek and Reimer. The Canes will be back on the ice Tuesday against Dallas, but an increasingly important trade deadline will come first on Monday.