Fresh off of the All-Star break, the Carolina Hurricanes started their four-game road trip with a stop in Toronto on Monday night.
Despite controlling play for most of the night, the Hurricanes fell to the Toronto Maple Leafs in overtime by a 4-3 final tally.
The Hurricanes played well enough to win, but the difference was Toronto’s two stars coming through with big goals in big moments. Let’s talk about last night.
Dating back to Carolina’s final game ahead of the All-Star break, the Hurricanes have played back-to-back games against former goalies that experienced a great deal of success with the club.
Last week, James Reimer stood across from his old teammates. On Monday, it was his former tandem partner Petr Mrazek.
And while it wasn’t with a crowd full of Leaf fans raining down some boo’s, it was Frederik Andersen’s first game back in Toronto.
Both Reimer and Mrazek had strong games against the Canes, but while Reimer took a loss in Raleigh, Mrazek managed to outlast Andersen.
After allowing a first-period tap-in goal from Nino Niederreiter on Carolina’s tenth shot of the game, Mrazek held the fort and frustrated the Hurricanes for most of the night, until the third-period puck drop.
A faceoff win from Jordan Staal set up a slick passing sequence from Jaccob Slavin to Jesper Fast to a rushing Tony DeAngelo for a far-side goal just eight seconds into the third period to tie the game at two goals apiece.
Then, near the halfway point of the third period, DeAngelo got involved and helped the Canes beat Mrazek again. DeAngelo’s shot from the slot rendered a juicy rebound at the side of the goal for Derek Stepan, who gave the Hurricanes a lead going into the final stretch of regulation.
Unfortunately, a turnover on a failed clearing attempt gifted Mitch Marner with a one-on-one chance on Andersen to tie the game before Marner struck again in overtime to decide the game.
Mrazek stopped 28 of 31 shots in his first game against the Hurricanes since signing with Toronto over the summer.
The Czech backstop has struggled with injuries for most of the season, but since January 22, he has looked like the goalie that led Carolina to several hugely successful regular seasons.
An Active Opening Period
You never really know what you’re going to get in game one of the post-All-Star-break portion of the season. The Hurricanes hadn’t played in more than a week, and the Maple Leafs hadn’t played in six days.
The first period was fast-paced and featured a lot of energy.
A strong string of shifts to open the game for the Hurricanes was answered with a slew of scoring chances from the Maple Leafs, testing Carolina’s All-Star goalie early in the game.
Carolina dominated most of the scoring chances from that point on, though, and they got the game’s first goal off the stick of Niederreiter.
The goal was Niederreiter’s fourth in seven games and his eighth in 16 games. His 14 goals in 37 games this season have him on a 31-goal pace over 82 games, which is a substantial contribution, but it’s made even more impressive by where he has been slotted in the lineup.
He is still scoring goals at a career-best rate despite often playing on the third line. He will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year.
All things considered, the Hurricanes got off to a very good start after a long layoff. The second period might have been their best of the night, so naturally, that’s when Auston Matthews decided to do things that Auston Matthews does.
You Win Some; You Lose Some
“I thought we played well,” Rod Brind’Amour said after the game. “I’m not disappointed at all in our effort. Obviously, we’d love the two points, but for not having any power plays I just felt like we created a lot of offense. Especially in the second period, where we had four or five breakaways, 2-on-1s that we just didn’t cash in on. It could have been a different game there.”
Those big saves from Mrazek in the second period, coupled with the Maple Leafs capitalizing on their more limited opportunities in close decided the game. Sometimes, it just shakes out like that.
Carolina got some quality contribution from their fourth line. Josh Leivo was brought in on relatively short notice after Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s move to the COVID list, and he was a noticeable difference-maker next to Stepan and Steven Lorentz.
Leivo, who just so happened to have also been playing against his former team, is again proving that his signing was a tidy bit of business from the Hurricanes front office. Whenever he has had to step in, he has been terrific. When he was on the ice at 5-on-5 last night, the Canes outshot the Leafs eight to one and generated 12 shot attempts to Toronto’s one. The high-danger shot attempts favored the Hurricanes three to zero, and he had an on-ice expected goals-for of 98.45%.
Outside of a couple of mistakes that backfired in unfortunate ways, DeAngelo and Jaccob Slavin had one of their better games as a pairing this season. DeAngelo’s early third-period goal was a timely tally, and Slavin was active with the puck all night.
Of course, no one in the Canes’ locker room will be happy with how the game was officiated. An early third-period holding call on Morgan Rielly accounted for all of the Maple Leafs’ penalty minutes on the night. The Hurricanes got just 16 seconds of power-play time in the game, and there’s plenty of reason to think that they should have gotten more based on how they were being officiated.
While Carolina did have some rough stretches in the third period, they played well enough to win. They probably should have had a better result, but securing a point in the standings is an acceptable consolation for the effort they put forth in Toronto. They’ll look to carry it over to Ottawa tonight.