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Quick Whistles: Jake Gardiner is Good, Justin Williams is Back, and Morgan Geekie is Ready

Gardiner’s five points, Williams’ big goals, and Geekie’s crazy debut help Hurricanes right the ship at a crucial point in the season.

NHL: MAR 08 Hurricanes at Penguins Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

And just like that, the Carolina Hurricanes are good again.

After dropping four straight games, the Hurricanes have won three games in four days and climbed back to the top of the wild card race in the East. On Sunday in Pittsburgh, they won consecutive games for the first time in exactly one month. On Tuesday in Detroit, they secured their first three-game winning streak since the second week of January.

They have 81 points in 68 games, which is tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets, but John Tortorella’s club has already played 70 games. The New York Islanders sit just a point back of them, with 80 points in 68 games.

It was an ugly few weeks, but here we sit on March 11 with Carolina in a playoff spot and positioned to be the front runners in the wild card battle down the stretch. There’s still much work to do, though.

This week, we’re going rapid fire through some names that have carried the mail for the Hurricanes as they’ve turned things around in short order.

Jake Gardiner

He’s a good player, folks.

Gardiner has collected five points in his last two games, including a booming game-winning goal in Pittsburgh and a three-point night in Detroit.

Since January 1, he has 16 points in 28 games played. That’s tied for the most among Carolina defensemen over that span, tied with Jaccob Slavin who has 200 more minutes in ice time over that span.

He has eight power play points since January 1, more than doubling Slavin’s three. Slavin has been manning the point on the first power play unit while Gardiner has been with group two.

Maybe it’s time to rethink that strategy, or maybe we’ll see the second unit continue to get more and more ice time like they have over the last several games. Either option is viable, it would seem.

Jordan Staal

The Hurricanes are a different team when big number eleven is in the zone, and right now he is in the zone.

Staal has seven points over his last ten games, seeing a significant offensive uptick at 5v5 with Justin Williams on his wing. Since the acquisition of Vincent Trocheck, Staal hasn’t even been on the power play, which is a good thing as he’s been among the very worst power play producers in the NHL over the last two seasons.

With his special teams focus solely dedicated to the penalty kill, the Hurricanes have been dominant in that area. Over their last six games, the Canes have killed 22 of the 23 penalties that they’ve taken. The only goal they allowed was in the final second of a 5-on-3 kill in Pittsburgh - one of the seven power plays they yielded to the Penguins in that game.

Justin Williams

Fifteen games into his return, some people were likely wondering if it was really a good idea for Williams to come back out of retirement to join this team for the stretch run. He had five points in five games, collecting at least one point in only three of those 15 games.

It’s okay if you had that question, but he has given a pretty resounding answer over the last two weeks.

Williams has six goals in five games, and five consecutive games with a goal. This has been the most productive five-game stretch of Williams’ second tenure with the Hurricanes in the goal category (which started in 2017).

In 20 games now, Williams has eight goals and three shootout tallies.

Because of course he does.

Morgan Geekie

What a whirlwind these past few days have been for young Geekie.

On March 6, he played for the Charlotte Checkers in their game against the Utica Comets. On March 7, he was pulled from the Checkers lineup and given his first NHL call-up after Ryan Dzingel suffered an injury on Long Island. On March 8, he made his NHL debut in Pittsburgh and scored two goals. On March 10, he scored another goal in Detroit.

He scored three goals on his first three NHL shots, a perfect run which was put to an end by Jonathan Bernier later in Carolina’s 5-2 win in Motown. He now stands at three-for-four.

It didn’t take long for Rod Brind’Amour to gain trust in the 21-year-old center. Geekie found himself on the second power play unit against the Pens and supplied the net-front on a power play goal. He stayed on that unit in Detroit.

Geekie has been more than a spark plug for the offense, though. He’s been particularly impressive along the boards and in front of the net on both ends of the ice. He’s put on some serious weight since getting drafted in the third round of the 2017 NHL Draft, and it has shown in his board battles and his tenacious drive to the dirty areas.

He’s also won 55% of his faceoffs, including a couple against Evgeni Malkin that led to Carolina goals. He was on the ice for 121 seconds at 5v5 against Malkin in his NHL debut, and the Canes outscored the Pens 3-0.

That’ll work.

Now, will he play the next twenty seasons and maintain his 75% shooting percentage? It’s impossible to say, really, but yes he will.

Petr Mrazek

Mrazek’s return to the crease was a successful one. He stopped 23 of 25 shots en route to a 5-2 win on Tuesday, propelling the Canes back up to the Eastern Conference’s first wild card playoff spot.

It wouldn’t be a Mrazek start without some drama. He was active in playing pucks, looking far from deterred after getting his bell rung by Kyle Clifford on February 22. His final act was simply peak Petr Mrazek, though.

Mrazek drifted in front of Robby Fabbri, got knocked down, and then sat back and watched the fireworks go off.

Haydn Fleury was the one who really lost his composure, but in a game that had already been decided, it wasn’t something that had a negative impact on the team or the game. If anything, it was an example of how far he has come over the last month.

He’s playing with a confidence that he’s never had at this level, getting top-four minutes and excelling in the face of a great challenge. I don’t think he jumps in and does that last season. There has to be a level of comfort there, and he has that now.

He doesn’t have to worry about being yanked from the lineup, he can just play his game and focus solely on the opportunity he’s been given. Fleury has proven a lot to the Hurricanes this season - and perhaps a lot to himself, as well.

Sebastian Aho

The Aho line was, frankly, terrible for most of Tuesday night’s game, but you wouldn’t know that based on the box score.

Aho finished the game with two goals - one power play goal and one shorthanded goal. Those tallies have him at 38 goals on the season, which is a 46-goal pace over 82 games.

His 5v5 trio was totally outclassed by Dylan Larkin and the Red Wings’ red-hot first line, but despite that, he found ways to be a game-breaker on special teams. He’s a special player, and he’s continuing to do special things for this team when desperately need it.