For more than 50 minutes, it looked like the rough patch that the Carolina Hurricanes have largely avoided this season had caught up to them at the worst possible time. But Martin Necas was having none of it.
Necas’ goal with seven minutes remaining rescued the Hurricanes from the brink, and Jordan Staal’s marker 2:03 into overtime allowed the Hurricanes to escape with a 3-2 overtime win over the Nashville Predators, returning the series to Music City on Thursday with a chance to clinch a spot in the second round awaiting.
All night, the Hurricanes struggled with any consistent offensive pressure. The goal that got Nashville on the board early, a floating point shot from Roman Josi that deflected twice and was last touched by Yakov Trenin, was fluky, but despite a 10-5 shot advantage the Hurricanes did little more than take simple shots on Juuse Saros that they couldn’t follow up. Trenin’s goal was reviewed for a high stick – not the last time video review would play a role in the night’s festivities.
The power play, though, did look much improved from earlier in the series, perhaps not coincidentally with Teuvo Teravainen back on the top unit. Necas pulled the Hurricanes back even with a snipe from the top of the far circle three minutes after Trenin’s goal, and for a little while it looked like the Hurricanes may have gotten their legs underneath them.
But any pretense of offensive competence went by the wayside on the first shift of the second period. Brett Pesce, as reliable a player as the Hurricanes have in the lineup, made an ill-advised drop pass that was easily intercepted by Colton Sissons. Sissons and Trenin were sprung on a 2-on-1, and again the Hurricanes were left chasing their tails after Trenin gave the Predators their second lead.
The Hurricanes looked to have tied the game again with six minutes remaining in the second, but the Predators’ first successful goal challenge of the season brought Jordan Staal’s deflection off the board. The league replay room ruled that Warren Foegele had interfered with Saros, which...I mean, see for yourself:
From the NHL Situation Room: "Carolina’s Warren Foegele impaired Juuse Saros’s ability to play his position in the crease prior to Jordan Staal’s goal."— Michael Smith (@MSmithCanes) May 26, 2021
The vociferous boos trailed the officials for the rest of the period and greeted them as they re-entered the ice for the start of the third. But whatever advantage could have been gained by the Hurricanes justifiably feeling shortchanged was neutralized by a Predators game plan that, as it has for the past two games, read the Hurricanes like a book.
It didn’t help that the Hurricanes couldn’t buy a goal. Andrei Svechnikov missed an open net, and Sebastian Aho twice was stopped on tap-ins at the doorstep of the goal.
An early-period roughing penalty to Foegele was killed off, but the Hurricanes looked like they were skating in quicksand, powerless against the 1-2-2 forecheck that the Predators have employed to perfection now for three games running.
At the under-10 timeout in the third period, Rod Brind’Amour was red-faced on the bench, imploring his team to play the way he – and they – knew they were capable of playing. But as the clock ticked down, it became apparent that the Hurricanes were going to need a spark of magic from somewhere to pull the game back to even terms.
They got it, thanks to a moment of brilliance by Necas.
With 7:05 to go, the speedy Czech drove the net and used Matt Duchene as an impediment to keep Saros from being able to slide across. His wraparound needed full extension, but it was all the Hurricanes needed. Suddenly, PNC Arena was alive again, and Brind’Amour’s exhortations to his team looked like they had paid dividends.
Saros held the fort against a relentless Hurricanes onslaught, the first time all night that the Hurricanes looked like the team that had won the Central Division title and one of the first times since early in the series. For the third straight game, extra hockey was needed to settle the outcome.
Less than a minute into overtime, Brady Skjei was whistled for impeding Mikael Granlund behind the net, putting the Predators on their third power play of the game, much to the discontent of the crowd and over Skjei’s strident protests. The Hurricanes only had to kill 75 seconds of the penalty, because Alexandre Carrier nullified the rest of it by interfering with Aho in the neutral zone.
And just 20 seconds after Carrier went to the box, off the face-off, Staal ended it on a broken play. Pesce’s point shot was batted away by Saros, but the rebound pinball off Staal and bounced into the net – just the bounce that the Hurricanes needed to escape with a win that looked like it was far outside the bounds of possibility for nearly the entire night.