The Carolina Hurricanes officially clinched their ticket to the postseason on Thursday night with a 5-3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres. It was a game that had a good number of ups and downs for the group, but they persevered in the end and managed to get the win in front of their home crowd.
Let’s get right into it and analyze the positives and negatives from last night’s game:
- The Canes are playoff bound, baby. Four straight years of postseason hockey is just fantastic, especially after enduring the pain and misery of the nine-year drought. Still a lot of work to do — and the Stanley Cup is obviously the main goal — but it’s nice to officially RSVP for the dance.
“That’s really the big picture. Thank you for bringing that up. It’s a huge accomplishment,” said Rod Brind’Amour after the game. “We’ve grinded all year. We know there’s bigger and better things that we want to accomplish, but you have to get there first. To get there with 11 games to go, that says a lot about the group. Normally you’re sweating it out to try and get in at this point.”
- The third-line trio of Nino Niederreiter, Jordan Staal and Jesper Fast has been a consistent bright spot for the majority of the season, but they’ve taken their magic to a whole new level recently. I mean, genuinely, these guys are becoming the engine that drives this team. Their work ethic is a constant every night, and they’re finally being rewarded with consistent scoring to go along with their effort. They took control of the game in the third period, and were responsible first for supplying the equalizer to level the game at 3; and then icing it off with the empty netter.
It was a statement game for Staal especially, who’s played brilliantly as of late and saw his hard work pay off on the scoresheet. After being around through the dark times in Raleigh, he’s as excited as anybody about the team’s turnaround over the past four seasons.
“I’m glad I [got] to stick around long enough to be where we’re at now and be part of it and the solution,” Staal said. “It’s exciting. Our fans have been great. They’ve jumped on board with this group, and we’ve really kind of elevated our game. I think there’s a really good future for this club.”
- It goes without saying at this point, but the drafting and arrival of Sebastian Aho has been just immense for this franchise. His two-goal night was the difference maker for the group, including his game-winning goal midway through the third period. He’s now up to 33 goals and 71 points on the season — both of which are team highs — and he continues to show up when the team needs him most.
- I thought Max Domi had a pretty good game overall, and he’s noticeably getting more comfortable within the team’s system. His fiery nature was on display throughout. His physicality was apparent and his puck retrieval ability continues to be a bright spot in his game. He was also able to establish a net-front presence quite consistently, and he made some really sharp passes. Through 8 games, he’s still searching for his first goal as a Hurricane — but I think it’s only a matter of time. He keeps looking better and better every night.
- Suffice to say, it was not a banner night for Tony DeAngelo. His defensive struggles and lapses in coverage have been well documented, and those flaws were on display again last night. He got caught watching on the Sabres’ third goal, and had a couple ill-advised pinches that led to danger the other way. He was also quite careless with the puck, especially in the third period when he tried multiple times to pass across the front of the Canes’ goal under pressure. Thankfully, Jaccob Slavin was there to bail him out on those.
For TDA, lot of the offence he brings continues to be negated by his shortcomings defensively, and that’s a little worrisome considering the nature of playoff hockey.
- Slow starts continue to plague the Canes, who had a classic “Hurricanes hockey” opening to the game where they out-shot Buffalo 8-2 in the opening 10 minutes but trailed 2-0.
“The first period I think we were kind of choppy again,” Staal said. “We were choppy in the second. We were hanging around, at least, but we hadn’t really fully played and committed to our game. That third period was kind of exactly how we wanted it to look.”
The Canes are back in action Friday night with a 7 p.m. puck drop in Raleigh against the red-hot New York Islanders. The Isles are 12-5-1 over their past 18 games, and are looking like their former selves after a disappointing first few months that ultimately doomed their season.
With Antti Raanta playing against the Sabres, it’s safe to assume Frederik Andersen will get the start in goal. There’s also a possibility that we’ll witness the return of Ethan Bear, who’s finally healthy and ready to roll after missing the past six games with a lower-body injury.