The Carolina Hurricanes, simply put, went into the BB&T Center and stole two points against the Florida Panthers Monday night. They built a 1-0 lead through two periods, but, with an abysmal third-period performance, had no business coming away with a win.
But, thanks to 44 saves on the night from Alex Nedeljkovic and clutch goals from Vincent Trocheck and Martin Necas, they did.
Let’s talk about last night:
Nedeljkovic stands on his head
Any discussion about this game has to start with Alex Nedeljkovic. The Canes’ netminder was superb. He turned aside 44 of 46 Panthers shots, and made grade-A stops all night, such as the below glove save on a Panthers 4-on-3 power play.
“It was just one of those nights,” Nedeljkovic said. “You do a lot of work behind the scenes preparing and getting ready and warming up and all that. You’ve got to stay sharp, make sure you are ready to go. We’re playing a lot of games in a short amount of time here. It’s easy to kind of get into a little bit of a lull and take a breath one day and not stay sharp, not do everything you need to get ready. That’s been the biggest thing for everybody; just staying sharp and being prepared to come out and play and execute.”
Nedeljkovic saved his best work for the third period, however. He simply had to. The Panthers flat-out dominated the third, outshooting Carolina 23-9 and racking up a 77.78 corsi-for percentage at 5 on 5.
Despite Florida putting Carolina completely on its heels and putting up scoring chances in waves, the Canes largely weathered the storm, largely thanks to Nedeljkovic. He did surrender two goals, including a go-ahead marker to former Hurricanes Eetu Luostarinen with 3:09 to play, but neither were his fault, and it could have been a lot worse, as Nedeljkovic kept the game close enough for Trocheck to send it to overtime.
“Ned” has been stellar over his last three starts that have included his first career shutout, a game in Tampa where he kept the Canes in it despite a poor performance in front of him, and last night’s game-stealing effort.
After stopping 46 of 48 shots in tonight’s win over the Panthers, Alex Nedeljkovic has a .959 save percentage over his last three starts (4-0 W vs. TBL, 3-0 L @ TBL, 3-2 W @ FLA). On the season, he’s 3-2-1 with a .924 save percentage.— Brett Finger (@brettfinger) March 2, 2021
Rod Brind’Amour said he hasn’t thought that far ahead yet, but Nedeljkovic’s performance of late could make for a tough decision on who backs up Petr Mrazek, who could return this week.
“It’s great to see him these last few starts,” Brind’Amour said. “I think he’s been really sharp. Tonight, that’s one of those where you’ll look back and say that he got us the victory tonight. He kept us in the game, in the third, obviously. We hope to have those tough decisions whenever Petr gets back.”
Martin Necas keeps making plays
Necas has grown his defensive game and even made an impact on the penalty kill this season, but he still makes his biggest mark in the offensive zone. Monday night, he factored in on all three goals, and combined with Sebastian Aho for a dazzling play as he scored the game winner in overtime.
The goal was Necas’ second overtime winner of the year (and he scored the shootout winner in Saturday’s game), and watching the Czech forward in the extra period is a spectacle. With all of the open ice that the 3-on-3 play provides, Necas’ world-class speed and skill takes over, and he’s a threat to call game every time the puck is on his stick.
“It’s a good feeling,” Necas said. “For me, I really like 3-on-3. There’s more space. You can make some skill plays. You have more space to handle the puck. It feels good.”
It must feel good for the Hurricanes as well, knowing they have a 22-year-old forward who is growing all areas of his game and his confidence to use his skills, and should only keep getting better from here.
It’s been well documented that Brett Pesce, despite returning from a shoulder surgery last March, has been hands down the Hurricanes’ best defenseman this season. He’s been his usual stalwart self in his own zone, shutting down the opposition’s top players on a nightly basis.
But while Pesce’s offensive game has always been underrated, it’s seemingly been on display more and more this season. He’s currently sitting at three goals and 13 points (tops among Hurricanes defensemen) and his 10 assists are two off the team lead.
In the past three games, in addition to his responsibilities at 5-on-5 and on the penalty kill, Pesce’s averaged about 1:06 on the power play with two regulars in Teuvo Teravainen and Jake Gardiner out of the lineup.
He made good on his opportunity Monday, blasting home a feed from Jake Bean on a first-period man advantage. That offensive, power play ability is something Brind’Amour has always known Pesce had.
“Over the years, he’s always been that guy I’ve kind of thrown in when we had to use him,” Brind’Amour said. “To be honest, the reason you don’t want to use him is just ice time. I don’t want him to have to play mega mega minutes. You start throwing power play, penalty kill, next thing you know the guy’s never off the ice. So that’s the only reason you don’t use him. But obviously with [Teuvo Teravainen] out, we’re one guy short on the power play. He’s obviously done well. So there’s no reason not to use him other than you don’t want him out there for the whole game.”
Pesce’s done everything the Hurricanes have asked of him this year, and been far and away the team’s most important blueliner.
Trocheck comes up clutch, Hurricanes find a way again
With the clock ticking down in the final two minutes of regulation, it didn’t appear the Hurricanes would get even a single point, let alone two. The team trailed by a goal in a third period in which it had been dominated. Enter Vincent Trocheck.
With Nedeljkovic on the bench for an extra skater, Trocheck found positioning in the slot, took a centering feed from Nino Niederretier and snapped it home to tie the game with his 11th tally of the season and third in three games against his former team.
It seems like nearly every time the Hurricanes have needed a big goal this season, Trocheck has provided. Of his 11 goals, two are game winners, four have come in the third period, seven have been go-ahead goals and three have been game-tying goals. The Hurricanes are 8-1-1 when Trocheck scores this season.
“He’s done it for us all year,” Brind’Amour said. “He’s logging a lot of minutes. He plays every situation now. It was a huge acquisition for us at the time, getting a player like that. You’re seeing that now. His play this year has been great.”
Trocheck’s goal was the latest example of the Hurricanes finding a way. After they surrendered the go-ahead goal with just over three minutes left, it seemed Carolina would deservedly come up empty. But Trocheck’s clutch tally was the latest example of this team finding a way to scratch and claw for points on off nights this season, something it’s done time and again and is a big factor for the Canes’ 14-6-1 start.
While Carolina won’t get away with third-period efforts like the one Monday often, as Pesce said after the game, “good teams find ways to win,” and every team won’t be at its best every night.
“They’re always good to win, no matter how you do it,” Brind’Amour said. “Obviously that’s not how you would draw it up. The third period was a little shaky for us. We were on our heels. But I love how our guys are digging in. They seem to never quit. It looked like it was going to go the other way tonight, and we bounced back. So you’ve got to give the guys a lot of credit for digging in. Obviously it wasn’t our best third, but I thought for two periods we were really good, and deserved better. It just didn’t go our way. It’s two points, and we’ll take them.”