It wasn’t the prettiest way to make it into the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but a Jani Hakanpaa goal with under five minutes to play tied the game at three and subsequently forced overtime against the Dallas Stars, meaning the Carolina Hurricanes punched their ticket to the playoffs for the third consecutive year.
After two first-period goals from Dallas, one from a near impossible angle and another off of a skate, it looked like it wasn’t going to be the Canes’ night, especially since the game was on national television, where the Hurricanes haven’t had the best of luck this season.
The once again short-handed Canes dug in when it counted and made sure they did what was needed to secure a point in what was a below average performance for the most part.
Now that their playoff spot is secured, the Hurricanes will look to get some guys healthy and remain at the top of the Central Division standings for the remaining eight games.
Let’s talk about last night.
Taxi squad assemble
The Canes broke the ice on Monday night when Morgan Geekie passed a bounce of the boards behind the net in front and Max McCormick knocked it out of mid-air past Jake Oettinger for the first Carolina goal of the night.
After a rash of injuries, the taxi squad has been raided as of late with McCormick, Geekie and Joakim Ryan all playing recently. McCormick had not seen the ice since he returned from an injury that occurred earlier in the season before Saturday’s game in Florida.
It was McCormick’s first NHL goal since November of 2018 and it ignited a stagnant Canes team up until that point. In fact, Jaccob Slavin scored a little over three minutes later to tie the game.
“It’s been a while since I’ve played a handful of games in a row and over a year since I’ve scored a goal,” McCormick said after the game. “We’ve been skating a lot as a group and staying in shape, just trying to be ready for when your opportunity comes. That one felt pretty good.”
Hakanpaa sends his new team into the playoffs
Jani Hakanpaa has two more goals in seven games with the Canes than he did in 42 with the Anaheim Ducks this season: two .
Hakanpaa only notched one assist and zero goals in 42 games with the Ducks this season, but Monday night he scored his second goal as a Hurricane, a goal that propelled them into a playoff spot.
After the game he spoke about what it meant to be the guy to score the goal that sent his team to the playoffs.
“It’s a nice feeling to be honest,” he said. “Wasn’t really thinking about it before the game to be honest, but it’s always fun to get one into the back of the net. Especially now that it sends us to the playoffs.”
Hakanpaa won a battle at center ice to win possession of the puck and after a couple of passes in the zone, Hakanpaa rocketed a shot from the blue line that deflected off a Stars player and into the net to tie the game at three with 4:15 to play in regulation.
Back-to-back-to-back playoff appearances
With the win the Hurricanes are back in the playoffs for the third consecutive season, a feat that has not been accomplished since they relocated in 1997. It should be applauded the work that has been done inside of the organization to draft, develop and bring up players to get to where they are today. The team made the moves it needed to make, signed the players that needed to be signed and the organization is where it is today because of that.
Head coach Rod Brind’Amour, in an unusual show of emotion, talked about how big getting back to the playoffs was for his team and the organization.
“I think that’s super important,” Brind’Amour said. “What do we have, eight games left and we’re in the playoffs? Let’s go. Enough of the negative stuff. This group has worked their ass off all year. We’re not done. We’ve got eight games left, we’re going to try to win all of them. But it’s a good accomplishment for this group.”
The Hurricanes are right back at it tonight against the Stars, as they finish their season series with them. The Hurricanes are 5-1-1 against Dallas this season, and the game wraps up a six game road trip where the Canes are 2-0-3 so far. The Hurricanes will return home on Thursday night to face the pesky Detroit Red Wings for the final time this season before taking on the Chicago Blackhawks in three straight home games beginning Saturday night.