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About last night: ‘A gritty win’

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Some timely goals and saves helped the Canes secure two points on a night when they weren’t at their best.

Carolina Hurricanes v Dallas Stars Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images

Different variations of the phrase: “Good teams find a way to win” were used multiple times in the Hurricanes’ post game media availability following a 5-3 win over the Stars in Dallas Thursday night.

It’s an explanation that applies, as some timely goals from players enjoying strong starts to the season helped the Canes battle through an uneven effort, including a horrific second period, and come away with two points.

“It wasn’t pretty,” said Rod Brind’Amour “I thought we came out really well, and the penalties just sucked the game right away from us. And then we kind of battled back and capitalized, really, was what I thought happened. We made some nice, high-end plays to get some goals and then kind of just buckled down. It was a gritty win.”

The Canes saw big goals from Jordan Staal, Brock McGinn, Nino Niederreiter and others, and a strong finish in net from James Reimer, help them secure the two points.

Let’s break down some key takeaways from the win:

Jordan Staal, offensive dynamo

When the Hurricanes acquired Vincent Trocheck (who’s also off to an excellent start to this season) at last year’s trade deadline, the thought was that adding a legitimate second-line center would allow Jordan Staal to slot in as the No. 3 center and just “do his thing” in terms of playing stout defensive hockey, winning faceoffs and killing penalties.

Turns out, so far this season, “doing his thing” has also involved Staal playing some of his best offensive hockey as a Hurricane, and blossoming into a force to be reckoned with past the attacking blue line.

Through nine games played, Staal has three goals, eight assists and 11 points, the latter two of which are tied for the team lead. Several of his assists have been of the highlight-reel variety, too, including this behind-the-back pass to Sebastian Aho to open the scoring Thursday night:

Staal also scored a big goal Thursday, giving the Hurricanes the lead back shortly after Dallas tied it on a play where he was falling away from the net.

So, what’s changed for Staal to give him this kind of production this season? Not much, according to Brind’Amour, who says Staal has always been able to make these kinds of plays, but the Hurricanes are cashing in on them as he gains confidence. For Staal, it’s also a product of some improved luck and talented linemates.

“I’ve been getting some good bounces,” Staal said. “I felt good coming into the season. I thought I had a strong offseason. It’s nice to pop a few in early and get the confidence going, much like a few guys on our team; [Niederreiter] and [McGinn]. I’m just feeling confident and playing well. I’m just trying to ride it the best I can. And obviously playing with some talented players. [Andrei Svechnikov] made a great pass tonight. I’m getting the opportunity to play with some special players that create a lot of offense. I’m glad I’m checking out on it a little bit.”

Staal has also continued to chip in where he normally does, with three hits and wins on 71% of his faceoffs Thursday night (he’s fourth in the NHL in faceoff win percentage. If he keeps up his offensive production too, the Canes will sport a lethal 1-2-3 punch down the middle with Aho, Trocheck and Staal.

An abysmal second period

The Canes and Stars both scored twice in the middle frame, but it really was an overall terrible period for Carolina.

A big part of that was the penalties Brind’Amour mentioned. The Canes went to the sin bin twice in the second period. The larger issue was they were back-to-back penalties, with a comical attempt at a line change while Carolina was already shorthanded resulting in a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty, giving Dallas a 5-on-3 that allowed them to take a 3-2 lead.

Really, though, things started to go awry before that. Following Staal’s goal, it appeared Roope Hintz had tied the game for Dallas, but a video review showed the play was clearly offsides. Hintz tied it up anyway right after that, walking through the Canes’ defenders in the process.

Dallas outshot Carolina 18-10 in a period that could have been even worse had the Stars scored on the other half of the two penalties, or Brady Skjei not made a key breakup on a two-on-one.

“We were flirting with disaster, and that’s not how we want to play,” Staal said. “We knew that. It’s never going to be perfect every night. Good teams find ways to win. We did grind a bit. We found ways to create some offense. And like I said, some timely goals. We found a way to get two points. It wasn’t pretty. We could be better in a lot of situations, take less penalties and all of those things. But, we’re happy with a win.”

A timely goal extends a streak

Despite their sloppy performance in the second, the Canes still headed to the intermission tied, thanks to a goal in the final minute from Brock McGinn, as a good forechecking shift for the Canes allowed McGinn to cash in on the rebound of a Brett Pesce point shot, a goal Niederreiter (who scored the game winner) called the most important of the night.

McGinn has had a knack for scoring big goals this season, as he has goals in four straight games and five on the season, all five of which have either tied a game or given the Hurricanes the lead.

Give me fuel, give me fire

Niederreiter might have called McGinn’s goal the biggest of the game. But he scored a pretty big one himself early in the third, taking a perfect stretch pass from Dougie Hamilton and undressing Anton Khudobin for a tally that put the Canes up 4-3 and stood up as the game winner.

Coming into the season, the team knew it would need a bounce back from either Niederreiter or Ryan Dzingel to created a fully-balanced top six. Niederreiter has obliged, with six goals in 11 games, tied for the team lead. Two of those have been game winners.

Niederreiter looks more comfortable and confident than he did at any point last season, and is off to a much better start because of it.

“Scoring early this season, I think, has helped make him feel good about his game,” Brind’Amour said. “You’ve got to give his linemates credit. They’ve actually really helped him too. It was probably an off year last year for him. If we want to be successful, he needs to be Nino that can score goals. That’s what he’s doing right now.”

Reimer finishes the job

James Reimer was a bit shaky in the first two periods, struggling with his rebound control and giving up a couple (including the one ultimately disallowed), he might want back. To his credit, Reimer battled through, finishing the game with 34 saves on 37 Stars shots, and turning aside all 10 he faced in a third period in which the Canes were either tied or protecting the lead.

“[Reimer] just played well,” Staal said. “He made some big, big saves and kept us in that game. We found a way to get two points.”