Tuesday night’s game was a BIG one. It had all sorts of playoff implications, and may have been the most important matchup of the season. Rookie goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov looked to remain undefeated in his third career NHL game and the Canes had to battle a few substantial injuries in order to take the win over their biggest division competition — but they did it.
Let’s take a look at last night’s win:
Kochetkov remains perfect between the crease
Prior to last night, Kochetkov was 2-0-0 in his first two NHL games, which came due to the injuries of starter Frederik Andersen and backup netminder Antti Raanta. With each of those two out for the time being, Kochetkov got his chance— and he proved himself worthy.
“He looks like nothing is phasing him and he looks like he belongs,” said Rod Brind’Amour. “Good on him. We hope it continues, but he’s been great.”
The games he has played have all been during absolute crunch time (or rather, clinch time), and he’s been as good as one could expect. Last night, he had a phenomenal first 40 minutes and then struggled a bit towards the end. He allowed three goals and was able to make some shockingly impressive saves on one of the best offensive teams in the league.
Special teams stars
The Canes special teamers excelled last night on the penalty kill, going 5-5 for a 100% success rate, reinforcing why they have the best PK in the league and have for much of the season.
“For me it’s that firepower that they can get real quick, especially on the power play,” Brind’Amour said of the challenges of playing against the Rangers. “That’s a dangerous weapon they have and I think that was the difference in the game. Not letting that be a factor in the game.”
The Canes power play was not as successful as far as getting the Canes on the score sheet, but they had plenty of opportunities. Rookie Seth Jarvis was highly present during the man-advantage and had quite a few dangerous chances. He ended the game with six shots, as well as tallying an assist on Sebastian Aho’s third period goal.
Although the power play wasn’t able to produce any goals, I never found myself frustrated about a lack of chances. It was usually all there, despite the Rangers superb penalty killers.
Kings of the Metro
Now, for the big stuff. The Canes were able to clinch the Metropolitan with this win and will face the Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs, barring a very unlikely situation where the Bruins win their last two games and Tampa loses their last two. The Canes have earned home-ice advantage, not only for this series, but for the second round as well.
“You probably need to take a minute and just realize that it has been a pretty darn good year,” Brind’Amour said. “We’ve done what we wanted to do. What’s great is that the guys aren’t really that excited about it. We know that there’s better things that we’re trying to accomplish, but we set out wanting to be the best after 82 games. Now we’re at the top of our division, which is great. That’s a huge accomplishment and you’ll enjoy it for a little while, but we’ll be right back at it here tomorrow. We know we’re trying to do bigger and better things.”
The Canes went 3-0 against the Bruins in the season-series, only giving up a single goal in total throughout those three matchups. Although the Canes do not have a fantastic playoff history against the Bruins, I think that this is truly revenge time. As long as the Canes goaltending can hold up, this is Carolina’s series to take.
“When I first came here, to make the playoffs was the pinnacle for that year and now it’s division champs two years in a row,” said Jordan Martinook. “I know last year is last year, but the standard has been set and we’re looking forward to the next chapter here.”
The Canes will face the New Jersey Devils in their last game of the regular season schedule. The Devils are far from a playoff team, and without their star centerman, Jack Hughes, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was an easier win, even without the pressures of clinching the Metropolitan division.
No matter the result, though, the Canes will almost certainly face the Boston Bruins again in the playoffs, and while I can confidently say that the Canes have been the better regular-season squad, the Bruins are a dangerous team to face in the playoffs.