The Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Chicago Blackhawks Tuesday night by a final score of 6-3 to take another huge stride towards clinching not only first in the division, but first overall in the entire league.
What they did clinch however, is home-ice advantage for at least the first round of the playoffs as they are now guaranteed to finish no lower than second overall in the division.
The Hurricanes are riding a 12-game point streak — one away from tying their franchise record — and the race for the top is helping keep them sharp and engaged.
But let’s take a look at the game last night and a few key takeaways from it.
Head coach Rod Brind’Amour has discussed many times how he feels his team rarely gets fazed by the score. No matter what the state of the game is, the team plays hard and sticks to its game.
After one of their worst first periods of the season saw them being outshot, outchanced and completely outplayed resulting in a 2-0 hole after 20 minutes, the Hurricanes looked like a completely different team the rest of the way.
Carolina had trailed by two goals or more after the first period only three other times this entire season and was 1-1-1 in those games, meaning there was only one game they hadn’t come back to tie the score up.
The Canes are such a dominant response team that you just really can’t hope to pin down. They score goals quick and efficiently and they’ve proven that ability time and time again.
Last night, the comeback was to the tune of four unanswered goals, as the Hurricanes stormed back to quickly take control of the game and two more empty-net goals sealed it away.
With how well the team has been playing of late, they were due for an off-period, hell even an off game, but they kept the damage to a minimum and took it easily in the next 40 minutes.
The biggest thing Brind’Amour is preaching right now is keeping up good habits and not picking up bad ones and so long as the Hurricanes can keep focused to the end of the regular season, they will be ready for the playoffs.
So… SAT huh?
Who knew that Teuvo Teravainen’s return would immediately bear fruit for the Hurricanes?
Sebastian Aho was holding down the fort for Carolina, scoring at around a point per game pace the entire season with inconsistent linemates, but Andrei Svechnikov had been struggling with consistency most of the year.
Teuvo Teravainen returns and the SAT line all of a sudden is clicking, with every member firing on all cylinders, and they, once again, look like one of the most dangerous lines in hockey.
In the five games since Teuvo Teravainen’s return, the line has combined for nine goals and 17 assists while being a dominant force every game.
Not saying that the Canes’ five-game winning streak is thanks to Teravainen’s return, but his impact on the team is visible and immense.
Svechnikov snapped an eight game scoring drought last night with a two-goal game — both assisted by Teravainen — and he overall is seemingly ready to reemerge as one of the Hurricanes top players.
Now the Trocheck, Neiderreiter, Necas line has been a bit cooled down for a while, but the series has seen it heating back up just in time.
Although he hasn’t scored in 11 games, Vincent Trocheck is playing well, still nearly on a point-per-game pace for the season and being the engine on a very effective forechecking line.
Martin Necas finally found his way back onto the scoresheet now with goals in back-to-back games after he self-proclaimed that he had “sucked” for the last few games.
The most consistent piece of that line though has been Nino Niederreiter who’s playing some of his best hockey of his career, notching 20 goals in 53 games — including a two-goal outing last night.
With those two lines clicking, Carolina can go toe-to-toe offensively with any team in the NHL.
For a little while there, it seemed that Petr Mrazek was playing himself out of a starting position for the playoffs with scrambly play and juicy rebounds in the opening few minutes of last night’s game, but the rust wore off quickly as the netminder settled in and looked much more like his old form.
It’s not to say that one bad game could see Mrazek slide down the depth charts, it’s just the reality of how well Alex Nedeljkovic is playing.
Nedeljkovic is rocking a 15-4-3 record with a 1.89 goals against average (4th), 0.932 save percentage (4th) and 9.5 goals saved above expected (6th) according to MoneyPuck.com.
But, Mrazek has been just as good although in a much smaller sample size. He’s 6-1-2 with a 1.75 goals against average (2nd), 0.934 save percentage (3rd) and 7.2 goals saved above expected (9th).
In reality, the playoffs will more than likely be a condensed schedule and the Hurricanes will look to both netminders to split the load much like the regular season, but if a series goes to Game 7 and both goalies play well, who starts the most important game?
Logic would lean towards the one with more experience, but the Canes have had a bit of luck with rookie netminders in the playoffs before.