The Carolina Hurricanes did not play well against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday night. They got to their game “in spurts” as both Rod Brind’Amour and multiple players said after, but they made too many sloppy mistakes and were hemmed into their own zone way too often.
Yet, thanks to Petr Mrazek’s heroics and a couple big goals from Andrei Svechnikov and Brady Skjei, the Canes managed to erase a 2-0 deficit en route to earning an all-important point in the standings before falling 3-2 in overtime.
Let’s talk about last night.
Not good enough
Let’s start with the obvious. As the team pointed out in its postgame interviews, Carolina was lucky to get a point out of Monday’s game. The Canes simply made too many mistakes to hope to get two points against a team like Tampa Bay.
They overpassed when they had good scoring opportunities, turned the puck over in opportune spots and allowed too many grade-A chances on defensive lapses, such as a first-period goal that saw Alex Killorn get behind the defense for a clear-cut breakaway.
“It wasn’t good enough,” Brind’Amour said. “We got lucky to get a point out of that. Our goalie bailed us out all game in my opinion. We had spurts where we were playing it right, but it wasn’t good enough. The fact that we got a point out of it, was probably pretty good, and had a chance to win. We had some good chances in overtime. So [Mrazek] put us in a spot to potentially win that. When you’re playing the best team in hockey, you can’t play the way we did. We can’t play two periods like that and expect to get anything out of it, so it’s a good point for us.”
As Svechnikov said after the game, the Canes know they’ll have to be better. They’ll have to be better in order to get a critical two points in the rematch Tuesday night, and they’d certainly have to be better in a potential seven-game playoff series against the Lightning.
Mrazek stands tall
As noted above, the Canes were lucky to get a point out of this one. The reason they did? Mrazek. The Czech goalie was outstanding in net in this one, stopping 33 of 36 Lightning shots, and standing on his head for several grade-A stops. According to Natural Stat Trick, The Lightning had 27 scoring chances and 13 high-danger chances in this one.
And yet, thanks to Mrazek, the Hurricanes were able to hang around, keep the deficit manageable and come back to earn a point. There was one stretch in the second period where the Canes were hemmed into their own zone for over two minutes, with every skater on the ice playing over a two-minute shift. Yet, thanks to Mrazek, they did not allow a goal on that sequence.
“He was on top of his game,” Skjei said. “No doubt about that. There were many shifts, I think me and [Brett Pesce] were out there for a long one in the second and Petr held strong. He played a heck of a game. The reason we got that point tonight was definitely because of him. He kept us in the game and did a great job.”
One of the biggest questions for the Hurricanes and their ability to get over the hump was whether or not they had a goalie that could give them that next-level goaltending and steal games in the playoffs. Mrazek has shown that ability on several occasions this season.
Andrei Svechnikov is back
There’s no doubt this has been a bit of a frustrating season for Svechnikov. He’s played well, but has seen some rotten puck luck and gone four stretches of six or more consecutive games without a goal. Brind’Amour has spoken multiple times about how much pressure Svechnikov puts on himself, and he’s been visibly frustrated and “fighting it” at times this season.
After breaking a seven-game goal drought last Thursday, however, Svechnikov appears to have found his groove again. He’s noticeably playing with more confidence, and has goals in three straight, including Monday’s laser from the right circle on the power play that started the Hurricanes’ comeback.
Brind’Amour is always the first to point out that Svechnikov has played well all year, and shouldn’t be judged by whether or not the puck is going in. But there’s also no doubt that seeing a few go in does wonders for Svechnikov’s confidence.
“Like I said after my first goal, it’s just one goal,” Svechnikov said. “But now it’s a couple of them. Obviously I’ve got my confidence. I feel comfortable with everything. Obviously I’ve got my confidence back, so I’ve got to keep that in form.”
If the Hurricanes are going to go anywhere in the postseason, they’re going to need the best version of Andrei Svechnikov. And he seems to be rounding into top form at the perfect time.
Sticking up for a teammate
As the games get closer and closer to playoff hockey, the physicality is ramping up. In the third period of last night’s game, the Bolts took some physical liberties with Hurricanes young star Martin Necas, via an elbow from Erik Cernak and questionable, borderline high hit from Alex Killorn.
There was an instant response to the later, with Jake Gardiner dropping the gloves with Cernak without hesitation, firing up his teammates as he stuck up for Necas.
“That got our bench going, for sure,” Skjei said. “[Gardiner] isn’t known as a fighter, obviously, but you protect your teammates when you have to. [Necas] got hit pretty hard there, and it was a great job from [Gardiner] of stepping up and fighting there.”
An important point
Obviously, anytime you lose a game to a team you’re battling for position with, whether it’s in overtime or regulation, it’s not ideal. But for the Canes, getting a point made Monday’s defeat much more palatable.
Going into Tuesday night’s rematch, Carolina remains in the driver’s seat for first place in the Central Division, tied with the Florida Panthers with two games in hand, and a point up on Tampa Bay with one in hand. While a win to push their lead to multiple points would certainly be preferable, given the games in hand situation, even coming out of the two-game set with just one point would not doom Carolina in terms of winning the division by any means. The Canes remain in the driver’s seat for snagging that all important No. 1 seed.