Matched up head-to-head, the Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers have played some of the most evenly-matched and chaotic hockey in the NHL this season. You would’ve been hard-pressed to feel confident in picking which team was better than the other.
That conversation changed last night.
A full 60-minute effort and some big saves led the Hurricanes to an important 4-2 win over the Panthers in part four of the Young Tro Revenge Tour.
Let’s talk about last night.
He’s Not Yo Tro No Mo
On top of being the second-line center that the Hurricanes have needed for quite some time, Vincent Trocheck has been an absolute menace against his former team.
Entering Sunday’s matchup, Trocheck had scored a goal in all three games against the Panthers. But that streak has to end, right? Surely that streak wouldn’t keep going into last night...
Trocheck’s first-period power-play goal was his 13th of the season, tying him for fifth in the league and creating more space as the Canes’ goal-scoring leader.
It’s hard to imagine a scenario where he could be more impactful than he has been so far for Carolina. He has scored at least one goal in 12 of his 23 games played, and the Hurricanes are 10-1-1 in those games. Twice this season against Florida, he has scored a game-tying goal in the second half of the third period to force overtime, but last night he scored a big first-period goal to give the Canes something to build on going into the second period.
The 2020 trade deadline move continues to pay huge dividends for the Hurricanes, and the fact that so much of that has happened against the Cats has to make that even sweeter.
Big Game James
For a while there, James Reimer was really going through a tough stretch of games. Petr Mrazek went down, and the Canes needed him to be the sturdy 1A with Alex Nedeljkovic coming in to support him.
A number of soft goals and tough moments for him sparked some level of uneasiness, and that has been something that has plagued him throughout the year so far, including last night.
MacKenzie Weegar sliding a line drive right through Reimer’s legs was an “oh no” moment. Would that be Florida’s ticket back into the game? Would this be the start of another shaky outing for Reimer?
The rest of the way, the Hurricanes got a strong performance out of Reimer, which included several massive saves when the team desperately needed it. What’s hurt the most about the goals he has given up to this point in the season is that it feels like so many of them were at pivotal points when the Canes were working with a one or two-goal lead in the second or third period.
This shot off the stick of Jonathan Huberdeau would’ve been a deflating goal after a misplayed puck from Brady Skjei, but with just a few seconds left on the second-period timer, the Canes got bailed out by their goalie.
The Hurricanes ended up scoring two early third-period goals after that big save late in the second to increase their lead to 4-1. Who knows what happens if that shot goes in. Maybe the Canes still come out and make big plays in the third; maybe the Panthers capture some momentum, as is what often happens when a team steals a goal at the buzzer. Thankfully, we will never have to know.
Florida did put a dent in Carolina’s third-period lead after a gorgeous pass from Huberdeau to Mason Marchment that Reimer didn’t have a chance on. However, with the emotions rising and the game still too close for comfort, he came up big once again.
The puck went to Gustav, and Reimer went for the gusto.
If we’re rating the “biggest save” of the night, I think the stop on Huberdeau takes the top spot, but that save on Gustav Forsling was certainly his prettiest, and it felt like a back-breaker for a Panthers team searching for a lifeline.
Haydn Fleury would probably tell you the same thing since he had the best seat (literally) in the house.
Haydn Fleury sat back and relaxed (on Patrik Hornqvist) to watch James Reimer's big glove save. pic.twitter.com/zRXmsaI5Wq— Brett Finger (@brettfinger) March 8, 2021
Oh, and then Jaccob Slavin saved a goal with his head, which was interesting.
Jaccob Slavin just saved a goal with the back of his head. pic.twitter.com/YH2KFbpr5l— Brett Finger (@brettfinger) March 8, 2021
The Hurricanes are now 11-3-0 in games where Reimer is in net, and that’s the ultimate stat, but there’s been room for improvement in his game for a while now. Hopefully, things continue to trend upward for him. The team needs him to play well.
A Much-Needed 60-Minute Effort
Up to this point, I’ve been hard-pressed to tell you which team between Carolina and Florida is better. They stack up pretty evenly on paper, and they had stacked up very evenly on the ice.
Last night was a statement win for the Canes. When they play their game and avoid the lulls that have plagued them at times this season, they are the better team.
Trocheck and Rod Brind’Amour both alluded to how they play kept their foot on the gas for 60 full minutes. That doesn’t always look the same, though. The first period was a slogfest wherein neither team pushed through and produced a lot of offense, but even then, they were all over the Panthers’ puck carriers and didn’t allow them to get anything.
Then, as the game continued and things opened up, the Hurricanes were the team that dug in and took advantage of their opportunities.
Now winners of five straight for the second time this season, Trocheck’s words after the game ring pretty true.
“We have a really good team.”