It was perhaps Carolina’s biggest game of the season for a number of reasons, but chief among them was the fact that the Canes could pull within one point of the Bolts in the divisional standings with a win while holding onto a game in hand.
It was a doozy of a 4-3 win.
I’m not sure the Hurricanes could’ve gotten off to a worse start.
Getting a spot in the starting lineup against his former team, Cedric Paquette went to the box just 17 seconds into the game for high-sticking Tampa defenseman Callan Foote.
The Hurricanes gave up just one noticeably dangerous chance in the sequence, but they managed to keep the Bolts’ second-ranked power play at bay. The moment that power pay ended, though, the real power play started.
Blake Coleman beat Jordan Martinook on a race to the net from the corner and beat James Reimer on a slot deflection to give the Lightning a 1-0 lead. Tampa kept its foot on the gas in the following shifts, forcing another Carolina penalty in the process.
The Canes killed off the penalty, but again, the Bolts found twine shortly thereafter.
James Reimer couldn’t cleanly play and cover a puck in his crease, the puck got loose and Patrick Maroon found himself with a wide-open chance in front of the net to double the Tampa lead.
The Hurricanes showed signs of life in the minutes following that goal and threatened Vezina-favorite Andrei Vasilevskiy with numerous high-quality chances, including a high-slot shot from Jaccob Slavin and a subsequent golden rebound chance for Martin Necas, but there’s a reason why he will almost surely win the Vezina.
Vasilveskiy made the statement that the Canes would have to work for their goals, and they were up to the task at the outset of the second period, a period that will henceforth be known as the “Martin Necas period.”
Brett Pesce had the presence of mind to notice that the Lightning were making a line change, and in the midst of it, he sent a quick up to Martin Necas down the right wing. Necas then led Cedric Paquette with a perfect pass for a brief breakaway that the former Tampa forward capitalized on.
62 seconds later, Tampa looked up, and their lead had totally vanished. A 3-on-1 rush for Sebastian Aho, Nino Niederreiter and Necas ended the way you’d probably expect.
Niederreiter forced a neutral zone turnover before making the crucial play of the sequence when he faked a shot in the slot and dished the puck off to Aho for the backdoor tap-in to tie the game at two goals apiece.
Sebastian Aho ties the game off of a great set-up from Nino Niederreiter on a 3-on-1. pic.twitter.com/b9Xk3uz1mP— Canes Country (@CanesCountry) March 28, 2021
The Hurricanes were relentless, even as the second period progressed. Jaccob Slavin had an opportunity on an open net to give the Canes a 3-2 lead, but his shot carried up and over Vasilevskiy and the game remained tied.
For the time being.
Coleman got too careless while defending Warren Foegele in front of the Tampa net, which gave the Hurricanes a power-play opportunity in the second half of the frame. The Canes’ top-ranked power play answered the bell.
A point shot from Andrei Svechnikov deflected off of Aho’s stick in the slot and redirected out to a streaking Necas, who quickly snapped the loose puck by Vasilevskiy for his third point of the period to give the Hurricanes their first lead of the night.
A 3-point period for Martin Necas, and this goal gives the Hurricanes the lead.— Canes Country (@CanesCountry) March 28, 2021
He's fired up. pic.twitter.com/vqDkKIW6pB
That goal marked Carolina’s third unanswered tally of the second period and gave them a lead to defend in the third peri... and that didn’t last long.
All of 22 seconds into the third period, Mathieu Joseph took advantage of a messy play by the Canes inside their own zone by lifting a point-blank shot up and over the blocker of Reimer to tie the game right back at up, this time at three.
Carolina got back on its game, though, and stayed on it for much of the third period before a noticeable push-back from the Lightning as the period passed its midway point. The Canes started to chase things, but they made the big plays necessary to keep the game tied.
Then, with under six minutes on the clock, Andreas Borgman got called for slashing.
And the Marty Party continued.
Necas’ perfect shot under the crossbar gave the Hurricanes a 4-3 lead. It was Necas’ second goal and fourth point of the night and his 17th point in 13 games in the month of March, and it was a perfect way to cap a career night for a young, seemingly budding NHL star.
Jesper Fast gave the 4,000+ in attendance a scare with his tripping penalty with 2:25 to go in the game, but the Hurricanes dug in and shut things down in impressive fashion down the stretch to close out a huge win.
With the win, the Canes pulled within one point of the Bolts atop the Central Division. Carolina also has a game in hand.
They’ll get two days off before hitting the ice again on Tuesday against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center.