The Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Nashville Predators 4-3 in overtime on Thursday night to win their first round series in the 2021 NHL Playoffs. The Canes were down two goals halfway through the second period and appeared to be out of it, but a fiery speech from alternate captain Jordan Martinook gave the team the spark they needed.
In what was the fourth consecutive overtime game in the series, the Canes mounted a comeback and set up a meeting with the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round.
Now, let’s talk about last night.
Aho’s big night (again)
Sebastian Aho netted two goals for the Canes on Thursday night, a power play goal in the second period to cut the deficit to 3-2 and then the overtime game winner where he tipped in the shot by Jaccob Slavin.
The two goals in game six gave Aho five total in the series, along with two assists for a total of seven points in the six games. Aho is in second place in goals scored this postseason, only one behind Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon who has six.
Kevin Weekes was asked after the game on NHL Network if Aho was a superstar in the NHL and he said that he was on the verge of becoming one, but Canes fans have known for sometime now that Aho is a superstar.
Night in and night out he is one of the players that you can rely on to give the team a goal, assist, short handed goal, defensive pressure etc. etc. He has the ability to take over games and provide such a spark for the Canes and it is a shame that the rest of the hockey world is just realizing how good he is, but we have been lucky enough to see it unfold over the last few years.
Marty gets the team going
Alternate captain Jordan Martinook was shown on the bench not long after the Hurricanes surrendered their second goal of the second period to go down 3-1 to Nashville. What we saw was a passionate talk he gave the team on the bench, letting them know that the way they were playing was not going to cut it.
There weren’t too many words I could make out, but the passion and desire to pick up his team up showed what a leader Martinook is to this team and the reason he wears the “A”.
The Canes entered the second period tied at one with the Preds, and things then went south quick. Nashville scored two goals, one on a 5-3 after a Dougie Hamilton interference call and an Aho slash.
The Predators were buzzing and things were looking bleak. In fact, it was probably the worst 10 minute stretch of hockey this group has played all season. But Martinook took it upon himself to rally his team on the bench as well as on the ice.
He delivered several big hits, and drew the penalty that would give the Hurricanes the power play goal to get the score back within one.
It was well known that Martinook was one of the leaders on the team, but his performance on the ice and on the bench on Thursday showed that.
Slavin and Dougie are back and better than ever
It was apparent that the absence of Jaccob Slavin in games two, three and four were detrimental to the team, but it is also very apparent that his presence and skill on the ice makes everyone around him better.
Dougie Hamilton took his fair share of criticism in the opening round series (some warranted, some not so much), but he made up for it in game 6.
Hamilton was able to make a great play on the power play that Aho scored on in the second period by keeping the puck in the zone and subsequently putting the puck on the net for Aho to tip in.
Then with just under six minutes to play he was able to get behind the Nashville players on a set piece after a Predators icing call. After the faceoff win, Slavin made a perfect pass to hit Hamilton right in front of the net where he put it passed Juuse Saaros to tie the game.
Whatever the Canes did in the third period and overtime, keep doing that
The Canes looked like the team we knew they could be throughout the third period and in the 66 seconds of overtime. The Predators were on their heels constantly, chasing the puck and just trying to clear the zone more than trying to set anything up. The shots went up, and although many weren’t great chances, the team showed that putting pucks on the net will result in goals eventually.
There were flashes of the team that won the Central Division title, and finished in the top three in the entire NHL standing this year, but a lot of the time what we saw on the ice was a team we had not seen. One that looked tired, confused at times and outplayed in spurts.
But they never gave up, they never settled for mediocre. Brind’Amour demands the best out of his team, and that is what they gave in the third period and overtime on Thursday. There is a reason these series are seven games, it gives teams a chance to feel each other out, and coaches find ways to stop the opposing team’s game plans and other things similar.
That means that teams are constantly changing things on the fly, and that was apparent last night when head coach Rod Brind’Amour changed the lines up at the start of the game. There were some lines that we had not seen all year, but when it is the sixth game in a row against a team (eight if you count the last two of the regular season), you have to make adjustments, and make adjustments they did.
It may have been a bit stressful watching the comeback win last night, but during that third period it was easy to get caught up in watching the Canes outplay the Predators in every aspect of the game and just smile knowing that when this team plays that well, they very rarely lose.