The Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers treated us to an uncommon 5:00 PM weekday game on Wednesday, a game that was rescheduled due to the COVID breakout that plagued the Canes early in the season.
Another uncommon aspect of the game? Well, the Panthers and Hurricanes are division rivals once again for the first time since the old Southeast Division days and the two clubs went toe-to-toe for sole possession of first place in the new Discover NHL® Central Division (not quite as catchy as Southeast Division but whatever).
The Hurricanes were clearly the more prepared team in the opening period. In just the first two shifts, Carolina already started hemming Florida in their own end and creating scoring chances. The Panthers’ first trip into the Canes zone resulted in a... controversial tripping penalty on Brady Skjei.
Carolina didn’t allow that unfortunate call to derail them, though, as they went on to ward off Florida’s dangerous power play and keep the game goal-free. Immediately following that steady kill, the Hurricanes regained control of the period and they didn’t let go through the rest of the period.
As the final two minutes ticked away, it felt like the Canes just weren’t going to get rewarded for their great opening frame. And then Jordan Staal happened.
Warren Foegele forced a puck through the slot and onto the stick of Staal, who deposited an absolute snipe over the shoulder of Chris Driedger, off the bar, and into the back of the net to increase his goal total to seven and point total to 15 and a Hurricanes lead to 1-0.
The "S" in Staal stands for snipes. Apparently. pic.twitter.com/FudtMYiY8M— Canes Country (@CanesCountry) February 17, 2021
To make matters better, the Canes had to wait just 22 seconds to celebrate again.
On the very next shift, Brock McGinn shoved a puck to Brett Pesce at the point, and Carolina’s hottest defensemen guided a puck to the slot where Sebastian Aho deflected the puck by Driedger to quickly make it a 2-0 hockey game going into the first intermission.
The script flipped on the Hurricanes in the second period, though, as the Panthers came out with a much better effort and started to show signs of life.
The Cats got a power-play opportunity thanks to a Warren Foegele holding penalty at 10:15 of the period and it only took them 37 seconds to capitalize. Jonathan Huberdeau snuck by the Canes’ backline, got a stretch pass from Keith Yandle, and blew a perfect shot by Alex Nedeljkovic to make it 2-1.
Ned stood strong the rest of the period, though, making a couple of huge saves - including a glove save on Aaron Ekblad - to help the Hurricanes hold onto a one-goal lead through 40 minutes.
Pitchers and catchers are reporting in the MLB, so Alex Nedeljkovic celebrated the opening of spring training with a dazzling glove stop on Ekblad. pic.twitter.com/k5qHQ8sP7d— Brett Finger (@brettfinger) February 17, 2021
It didn’t stay that way for long, though, because Huberdeau woke up this morning and chose highlight-reel plays.
For his second trick, the ultra-skilled Florida forward delivered a gorgeous spinning backhanded pass directly to the tape of Alexander Wennberg on an odd-man rush to tie the hockey game at two goals apiece.
Unfortunately, Florida’s push didn’t stop there. The Canes continued to have trouble keeping the Panthers out of their own zone and were getting peppered with close-calls. Then, a neutral zone turnover led to a low-danger chance and a goal that Nedeljkovic will want to have back.
Juho Lammikko scored his first NHL goal at 12:06 of the third period on a soft backhander that just dribbled through the legs of Nedeljkovic to give the Cats their first lead of the night.
That goal felt like a dagger at the time, but the Hurricanes were given another prime opportunity in the form of a power play with less than seven minutes to go in the third period. And naturally, the story played out as you might expect.
On the man advantage, Andrei Svechnikov posted up at his normal spot, and instead of shooting, he drove a pass right down low to Vincent Trocheck, who deflected home the game-tying goal late in the third period of his first game against his old long-time team.
Trocheck’s tally forced the game into overtime, meaning both teams secured a point, but the extra one would decide which team could stake a claim for first place in the division - well, at least for the day.
Both teams had chances in the opening moments of the extra frame, but it was the Panthers who came through with the deciding goal.
Jake Gardiner flew a loose pass intended for Trocheck that got picked off by Aleksander Barkov who then sprung Huberdeau for a long breakaway chance that he buried past Nedeljkovic to give the Panthers a 4-3 win in Raleigh.
After a great start, the Canes saw their game break apart. The details escaped them after being so spot-on in the first period, and the Panthers are a good team that will make you pay when you make those errors.
It’s a game that Carolina will want back, and now they have to move on to their scheduled tilt with the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday for game two of their homestand.