It was a battle of maybe the top two teams in the NHL in PNC Arena Thursday night, and it was a battle that didn’t disappoint.
The Canes won a tightly contested game 2-0, breaking through the stalemate in the third period as Ethan Bear netted the game winner thanks to some fortunate bounces and Sebastian Aho added an empty netter.
Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper, longtime goaltending partners in Arizona, both played exceptionally well, with Raanta becoming the first goaltender to shutout the high-flying Avalanche this season in a 36-save effort.
The most exciting 0-0 hockey game you’ll see
Scoreless hockey games and excitement aren’t often synonymous, but they were Thursday night in a game where both teams were flying and both goalies were making saves.
Ethan Bear broke through on the scoresheet 54 minutes and 20 seconds into the contest, the first goal in a game that probably deserved some more.
The two teams combined for 53 scoring chances on the night, including 27 high-danger scoring chances. There were 6.78 expected goals in the game, with both teams xGF total higher than the full game’s actual goal total of two.
But some bounces, some key plays and, of course, some big saves kept the puck out of the net for all but the final five minutes and change. Raanta and Kuemper made 71 saves between them, shining the brightest in a game that could have been high scoring.
It was back and forth, too. The Hurricanes dominated the possession and chances in the first period. Then the Avalanche did the same in the second period. And then things evened out in the third, as tension grew in the building and on the ice.
It was fun, fun hockey, even if the puck wasn’t going in the net.
“That was a very fun game,” Bear said. “Especially being first and second in the league. That’s a game we pride ourselves in winning and it just shows that we’re a good team. It’s really good for our group.”
The Hurricanes found themselves a player in Antti Raanta, that’s for sure.
Raanta was exceptional Thursday night, making 36 saves in his second shutout of the season. He turned away all seven high-danger shots against, limited a 2.82 xGF mark from the Avalanche to no actual goals for and really won the game for the Hurricanes.
“He was great,” said Rod Brind’Amour. “Made some really big saves at key times. Can’t really say much more. It was a good game. Pretty spirited and I thought it was pretty even. As you can see, he was the difference.”
And it wasn’t the first time Raanta has been good, either.
The veteran Finnish netminder has been great all season for the Canes, playing a secondary role to Vezina-candidate Frederik Andersen. But when he’s been called on, he’s been great.
Raanta has a 2.31 GAA and .918 save percentage to go along with a 10-3-2 record.
In the past few weeks, Raanta has been thrown into more action as the Hurricanes’ schedule has heated up at the same time Andersen has been dealing with a nagging injury. And Raanta has done nothing but perform.
Raanta has played in five games since Feb. 20, one more than half of all the games the Hurricanes have played. In that span, he’s now 4-0-1 with a .933 save percentage and a 2.20 GAA.
Raanta is proving he’s got what it takes to play consistently, and the tandem of him and Andersen has been a wonder this year.
There were doubts about the Hurricanes’ offseason goalie moves, with a lot of fans (and hand up, writers) somewhat upset at the departure of Alex Nedeljkovic and maybe even more upset that it was Andersen who was coming in.
But the duo has been great. And as Raanta was shutting out quite possibly the best team in the NHL Thursday night, let’s check in on what Nedeljkovic and Petr Mrazek were doing.
Chychrun SNIPING out here pic.twitter.com/pqsvVzUcc6— James Nichols (@JamesNicholsNYI) March 11, 2022
But jokes aside, Raanta is playing at a high level right now, and Andersen has played at one all year. The Hurricanes appear to have nailed the goaltending tandem, and a lot of credit goes to the front office for clearly making the correct choices there.
“That’s why we went out and did what we did this summer,” Brind’Amour said. “It was specifically for this kind of situation. We all felt that Raanta had that kind of game and we see that he is able to do that. We all know how important goaltending is and it’s nice to have two guys that we can count on.”
- The Hurricanes did an excellent job of limiting Nathan MacKinnon Thursday night. The Colorado superstar did lead the team with 0.81 xG and five scoring chances for, but any night you keep him off the scoresheet that counts is a good night. A lot of credit to Sebastian Aho for doing some good things there, and of course also Jaccob Slavin.
- That was a very fun game of hockey and would make for a very fun series of hockey this summer. Just saying.
- Regardless of how the goal went in, it was good to see Ethan Bear score.
- Which also on the Bear goal, yes it’s a lucky bounce. But it’s a lucky bounce created by a good play from Jesper Fast, and it was important only because of a good full-game effort from the entire Hurricanes’ lineup. You create your luck in hockey.