Welcome to week three of the Carolina Hurricanes NHL 20 franchise simulation.
For more information on how all of this works, head over to part one of the series.
Through two weeks, the Hurricanes were 3-4-1 and trending in the wrong direction as the the final week of March approached.
This week is huge. It’s make or break time in every sense of the phrase. Will they be able to bring it together and come through when they need to the most?
Let’s find out.
March 26 vs. Toronto
Coming off of a middling week, the Hurricanes desperately needed to start getting the ball rolling, and they had a chance to do so when they hosted the Maple Leafs.
Things couldn’t have gone much worse for them, though.
84 seconds into the game, Tyson Barrie rang off of the far-side post and ultimately by the glove hand of Petr Mrazek, and the Leafs never looked back.
By the end of the opening frame, Andreas Johnsson had extended the lead to 2-0 on a long breakaway chance off of turnover from Brock McGinn as he covered for a pinching Brady Skjei at the Toronto blue line.
Andrei Svechnikov put Carolina on the board at 9:12 of the middle frame, capitalizing on a big period power play opportunity, but that was all for the Canes.
Kasperi Kapanen reestablished Toronto’s two-goal lead just over five minutes after Svech’s goal before scoring yet again before the end of the middle frame, sneaking one under the pad of Mrazek on the backdoor off of a great pass from Mitch Marner with all of 33 seconds on the clock.
Toronto added two more goals in the third period, from Justin Holl and Jason Spezza, as they salted away a blowout win over a Canes team that had seen their losing streak reach three games.
Mrazek was hit hard and he had very little help. He stopped just 27 of the 33 shots he saw in the 6-1 loss. JAccob Slavin was a very uncharacteristic minus-three in over 27 minutes of ice time.
March 28 vs. Pittsburgh
Rod Brind’Amour’s group was tasked with ending their slump against a powerhouse division rival in the Pittsburgh Penguins, whom they had lost to in consecutive meetings after beating them in the Steel City in the first week of March.
It looked like the Hurricanes were on the verge of tanking out of the playoff hunt early in the game. Sidney Crosby opened the scoring at 11:37 of the first period before Bryan Rust extended the Pens’ lead to 2-0 on a power play goal with 2:20 left in the period.
A scoreless second period made things look pretty miserable for the Hurricanes. They were on the verge of losing their fourth consecutive game at an absolutely crucial point in the season. Another loss would be catastrophic, especially in front of a sold-out PNC Arena crowd.
The third period started, and it may end up being the period that defined the team’s season.
Evan Rodrigues got whistled for holding just a minute into the third period, and like so many times in the past, Carolina was presented a big chance in the form of a power play. This time around, they took advantage of it.
Teuvo Teravainen sent a cross-seam pass to the tape of a pinching Andrei Svechnikov from the left boards. He corralled the puck and sent a blistering snap shot through a screen in front and over the glove of Matt Murray.
The Canes were on the board, and we had a game on our hands.
After being pinned in their own zone for north of a minute the Pens were forced to just the ice the puck at the 7:45 mark of the period.
Sebastian Aho won the ensuing face off, and the first line went to work. Andrei Svechnikov dug the puck out of a scrum along the boards and kicked it to Aho, who then fired a gorgeous pass across the offensive zone to a totally unmarked Teravainen at the right face off dot. Teravainen closed in on Murray faked to his forehand, and buried a backhand shot on the short side. It was a gorgeous goal, and the game was suddenly tied.
Just over two and a half minutes later, the Hurricanes entered the Pittsburgh zone on a two-on-one rush, but the play was called dead offside. Brind’Amour was furious, as was the PNC Arena crowd. Jordan Staal and Justin Williams seemed to be onside on the play, but the call was made and that was that.
The neutral zone face off was won back to Slavin, who fired the puck around the boards and behind the Penguins net. Nino Niederreiter won the race to the puck, regained possession and worked it back out to the blue line. Brady Skjei pinched down the left wing before quickly turning and firing a pass back to Slavin at the top of the zone. Slavin hesitated before depositing a puck off of Pens defensemen Brian Dumoulin and into the net.
The goal marked the Canes’ third goal in 8:27 and they had their first lead of the night.
Slavin added another goal on a 3-on-1 rush. Aho led the play into the offensive zone before moving the puck to Teravainen, who then fed Slavin as the trailer on the play. Slavin sent a booming one-timer from the high slot through the legs of Murray and increased the lead to 4-2.
The Penguins fought back in a big way in the second half of the period, but Mrazek put some of his best work on display as the Canes kept the Pens at bay leading into the final minute.
Rodrigues managed to score on a cheeky flip off of the back of Mrazek from behind the net to make it a 4-3 game, but that ended up being the final shot on goal from the Pens in a massive 4-3 Carolina win.
The Hurricanes scored four times in an insane third period that brought back some of the magic vibes of the 2018-19 season.
Aho, Teravainen, and Svechnikov all has three-point nights as they carried their team back from the brink late in the tilt. Slavin found the back of the net twice and logged 28:14 of outstanding hockey. Mrazek allowed three goals on 33 shots and saved his best for the third period after keeping his team in the game through forty minutes.
March 29 @ New Jersey
Coming off of the high of beating Pittsburgh in dramatic fashion, the Canes quickly hit the road to take on a bottom-dwelling New Jersey Devils team.
Trap game, anyone?
The first period was painfully boring as the clubs combined for just twelve shots on goal (seven for the Canes, five for the Devils). None of those shots were overly dangerous.
Play picked up in the second period, but it was heavily favoring the Devils through most of the first ten minutes. After seeing five shots in the first period, James Reimer saw eight shots through nine minutes of second-period action.
The game got turned on its head, though, at the ten-minute mark. Vincent Trocheck picked to pocket of Devils blueliner Will Butcher and broke away from the Devils, most of whom had been on the ice for a lengthy offensive zone shift.
Trocheck was fresh, though, and he fired a snap shot from the bottom hashmark and cleanly beat Mackenzie Blackwood high-glove.
The remainder of the frame was quiet, setting up for a big third period for the Hurricanes, who held a 1-0 lead.
Nico Hischier put a huge damper on things just 4:35 into the third. An errant pass from the Canes’ power play saw the puck go all the way back into their own end. Reimer went out to play the puck, but he miss-hit it and fired it over the stick of Necas. The puck went right to Hischier, who dashed in and beat Reimer no a quick move to his forehand.
New Jersey maintained some steady pressure in the following minutes before Travis Zajac upended Williams and got two minutes for hooking.
On the power play, the Hurricanes scored the game-winning goal. Jake Gardiner sent a low shot through traffic, and the puck bounced off of a Devils defender and right to the area of Svechnikov. He recovered the puck, circled around in the corner, and practically rocked the Devils to sleep before making a quick power move to the net and cashing in on his own rebound.
Carolina’s young budding superstar came through yet again in a big place. His power play marker was the difference in a 2-1 game.
Reimer was excellent, outside of his bad turnover early in the third period that led to the lone Devils goal. He stopped 24 of 25 shots. Trocheck got the secondary assist on Svechnikov’s PPG, adding to his second-period goal.
The Hurricanes’ penalty kill put on a clinic, as well, going five-for-five.
March 31 vs. Boston
Carolina closed out their March schedule with a home game against the dominant Boston Bruins.
This one was interesting.
Brock McGinn was give two minutes for boarding on the very shift of the game.
Naturally, the Bruins took advantage of the mistake. Danton Heinen corralled a rebound in front of Mrazek and chipped it over his outstretched left pad to make it 1-0, just over ninety seconds into the game.
More than ten minutes went by as both teams started to clamp down and get to their games. Carolina started to mount some chances roughly seven minutes into the first period, and they broke through at 13:04.
Necas made an excellent individual play as he danced around Charlie McAvoy in the neutral zone and set up a brief two-on-one rush into the Boston zone. He sauced a gorgeous pass across the crease of Tuukka Rask and onto the stick of Trocheck, who found the back of the net yet again and tied the game.
The Trocheck addition has been paying off in spades for the Hurricanes. He’s been on an absolute roll as of late.
Before you could even regroup and refocus on the game, Carolina had scored again.
43 seconds after Trocheck’s goal. Joel Edmundson sent a long-range wrist shot into a maze of bodies in front of Rask. The puck managed to get through the bevy of humanity untouched and it glided right through Rask’s legs. He had no idea where the puck was, but it went in the net and Edmundson gave the Canes a big 2-1 lead.
And they never looked back.
The second and third periods were simply dominant for the Hurricanes. They put the game away with maybe their stingiest stretch of defensive hockey all season.
With five minutes left in the game, the Bruins started to crack the code, and they put seven shots on Mrazek as the third period wained away. Mrazek was absolutely stellar, though, stopping 31 of the 32 shots he saw in the win.
Slavin played lights out hockey and was on the ice for a whopping 29:24. He very nearly played half of the game, but with the current blue line situation for the Canes, that was something that just had to happen. Skjei was his partner, and he had his best shutdown game of his young Hurricanes tenure.
After a disappointing showing against the Leafs and two brutal periods against the Pens to follow it up, the Hurricanes managed to turn things around in unbelievably short order. A four-goal third period against Pittsburgh was the catalyst for a three-game win streak to close out the month of March.
Carolina currently sits in the final wild card spot in the East, just one point behind the New York Islanders for the WC1, and are 6-5-1 since the suspension of (real-life) NHL play on March 12.
Now, it’s onto April.
Two games remain on the schedule - a home game against the Columbus Blue Jackets and one final date with the Bruins up in Boston for game 82. Those two games will be recapped later this week.
Buckle up. It’s a wild finish.