The remarkable story of emergency backup netminder David Ayres has captivated the hockey world, and along with it, the general public. Perhaps lost in all of the publicity is how Ayres and the Carolina Hurricanes survived the unique circumstances to salvage two points from Toronto.
When Ayres first entered the game, his nerves were, understandably, on full display. Within his first minute of action, Ayres twice saw the puck dumped into the Hurricanes’ zone. Each time, Ayres stayed put in his crease, instead allowing his defensemen to fend for the loose puck.
They were likely wise decisions. For starters, Ayres had just entered the game, but even more importantly he was likely still getting adjusted to NHL game speed. With the fastest skaters in the world bearing in, staying put in the crease is the safest choice.
But not long after, Ayres did leave his net, trusting his skating ability to beat Maple Leafs forward Zach Hyman to a loose puck, no small feat.
While it can be written off as routine, Ayres made a split-second decision and then did a nice job of turning his back to Hyman, protecting the puck and then shoveling it to safety.
It led to a Carolina zone entry, and, eventually, a Sebastian Aho goal.
From there, things quickly went off track, as the Leafs rallied with two goals in a matter of minutes on the first two shots Ayres faced.
First, with Brett Pesce injured, John Tavares took advantage of all sorts of time and space to beat Ayres five hole.
It’s a high quality scoring chance for Tavares and with Ayres also having to respect Auston Matthews as a back door option, it represents a nightmare scenario for the EBUG to face on his first shot against.
Just over a minute later, the Leafs are able to get off a point shot and after blocking a shot, Jake Gardiner loses his mark, who beats Ayres. The redirection makes things challenging for the new goaltender but after two goals on two shots, the floodgates appeared to be open.
Minutes later, Ayres made his first National Hockey League save, although it wasn’t exactly pretty...
After making a strong toe save, Ayres has no idea where the puck is and, as the clip below shows, nearly kicks it into his own net. Luckily, his teammates are there to help bail him out.
Ayres’ best save of the night came in the third period on a Toronto power play. Hyman finds himself open, but Ayres challenges and squeezes the puck despite not being entirely square to the shooter. Credit to Jaccob Slavin for forcing Hyman into a quicker release of the shot than the Toronto winger would have liked.
As soon as Ayres entered the game, the Hurricanes raised their intensity and desperation to another level.
On an early penalty kill, Carolina stifled Toronto’s zone entries and didn’t allow the Leafs a shot on goal for their entire man advantage.
When sniper Auston Matthews gets free, the Hurricanes recognize the imminent danger and, although they take a penalty in the process, desperately prevent the 40-goal scorer from getting a clean look.
The sequence below may best represent the Hurricanes’ play in front of Ayres. After a strong kick save, the Canes cannot clear and Toronto finds themselves in some high quality scoring areas. But diving Carolina bodies and active sticks prevent the Leafs from ever generating another shot on goal and the Canes are eventually able to skate the puck to safety.
But in the end, it was the goaltenders’ night and the final seconds fittingly ticked away with a David Ayres glove save.
From there the postgame celebration began, Ayres was named first star and a Hurricanes’ legend was born.