Czech in the Clutch
It’s a skill that can’t be taught.
Some players have it... some players don’t.
The “Clutch” factor is the most coveted intangible in sports. Something that takes on different meanings depending on the sport and situations.
From one of the most well known athletes, Michael Jordan, who exemplified that clutch factor throughout his career, to others whose biggest moments came courtesy of that one clutch play, such as Marc-Andre Fleury's diving save in the final seconds in Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final.
To come up in the clutch is what sets certain athletes apart.
And so far this season, that clutch factor is what Martin Necas is showcasing.
With time winding down and Carolina pushing with Andersen pulled for the extra attacker, Jesperi Kotkaniemi drew a holding call with just 0:07 remaining on the clock.
Jordan Staal won the draw back, Shayne Gostisbehere took a shot, the puck rebounded to the boards, chaos ensued and then, all of a sudden, Necas was there with the puck on his stick and he beat the clock.
It hasn’t just been a fluke play here or there either.
This season, Necas has scored the tying goal to force overtime four times in the final 2:30 of play and three times in the final minute — which ties an NHL record.
From there, he has three overtime game winning goals and assisted on two additional overtime winners.
Last year was a culmination of frustration over the Czech winger’s inability to take that next step, but this season — with 27 goals and 64 points — he’s proving the front office’s patience right.
Aho’s Just Fine
It’s honestly astounding that in a game where he scored a hat trick, including the overtime winner and reaching the 30-goal mark for the fourth time in his career, Sebastian Aho’s performance feels like the secondary story.
But it was Aho that was steering the ship.
Some new line combinations by Rod Brind’Amour helped respark Carolina’s top scorer, opening the flood gates for him after a seven-game point drought.
It had been a frustrating time for Aho. With the loss of Andrei Svechnikov from his wing, he was left with two players who had been underperforming all year, and he just wasn’t getting the bounces.
But if there’s one thing about Aho, it’s that he’s an elite competitor. He doesn’t sulk or concede, he just keeps working and going. Even when he’s not scoring, he’s working in all three zones and out there in every situation.
That had been evident throughout the stretch, but when he got that first goal, you could see how much frustration he had been feeling.
And when he got two, you could just feel three was coming. I just didn’t think it was going to be such a Déjà vu moment.
Sebastian Aho. Highlight reel.— Walt Ruff (@WaltRuff) March 18, 2023
What a way to end it. pic.twitter.com/j2ecz44Zkz
Sebastian Aho. WOOOOW. Enjoy every angle of this highlight-reel goal from Aho, who strips the puck from Trouba and walks DeAngelo for a goal that puts the Hurricanes up 3-1 on the Rangers in game three. pic.twitter.com/YfGH9VeYVm— Brett Finger (@brettfinger) August 5, 2020
How’d We Get To This Point Though?
While the late-game heroics are fun and exciting, and what truly separates a great team from a bad team, I’d be remiss to say that Carolina shouldn’t have been in that position to begin with.
They took an early 2-0 lead thanks to Aho and Brady Skjei, who literally can’t stop scoring as he grabbed his 15th goal of the season and extended his scoring streak to three games, but then it was just poor play after poor play by Carolina that allowed the Flyers to crawl back into the game.
Philly is a team that grinds and works hard, but the skill gap on the ice is pretty sizable. However, hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t want to work and so when you let up against a team that works their butts off, you’re going to be in trouble.
The first goal against was another scored off the rush by a skater coming down the wing on Frederik Andersen. It’s been an almost near constant in each of his last few starts and it’s an area he needs to find a way to improve on.
The next two against were simply the Canes not guarding the paint. Philadelphia’s second goal came on a 5-on-3 power play, but Brett Pesce simply didn’t do a good enough job boxing out Noah Cates on a rebound chance.
The next Flyer goal was Aho losing his man in front, and so then Joel Farabee put in another easy rebound goal by just standing at the top of the crease.
And then it seemed like the dagger goal came early in the third period when Andersen misplayed the puck behind his net, passing it straight into a Flyer who passed it out to Brendan Lemieux for an easy goal on a wide-open net.
Tack in two penalties against Carolina in the final half of the third period, and it really seemed like the team was looking for ways to lose.
Maybe it was the difficulty in coming into the second game of a back-to-back while on the road, or perhaps a myriad of other reasons, but the Hurricanes were the ones who put themselves into the position they found themselves having to escape from.
Luckily for the Hurricanes, they had the talent to escape the situation they found themselves in and they came away with yet another win.
But moving forward, perhaps they’d be a bit better served taking care of business before the final second of regulation.
Additional Game Notes
- The Hurricanes swept the season series against the Flyers, winning all four games, but in fact, each game was decided by just a single goal (4-3 OTW, 6-5, 1-0, 5-4 OTW). It’s the second series sweep for the Canes over a Metro opponent as they swept their four games with the other Pennsylvania-based team — Pittsburgh Penguins — earlier in the season. All four of those games were also decided by just a single goal (3-2 OTW, 3-2, 4-3 OTW, 2-1).
- With the win, Frederik Andersen also became the third Hurricanes goaltender to start and beat the Flyers in just this season, following up Antti Raanta (2-0-0) and Pyotr Kochetkov (1-0-0). I’m not sure if that’s been done before, but it seems like a pretty cool stat.
- With an assist on the overtime winner, Brent Burns also became Carolina’s single-season points by a defenseman team record holder with 52, passing Tony DeAngelo’s — who also got passed through for the game winner — 51 point record set last season.
- Let’s revisit the clutch conversation and throw in another name. Jordan Staal. The captain won seven straight faceoffs to end the game including the setup for both the tying goal and the overtime winner. He’s come through for this team time and time again, and those faceoff wins were massive.
- Sebastian Aho’s hat trick was the seventh of his career, but his third one this season. He also registered a hat trick this year against the Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders. His first ever career hat trick came in 2017 also against the Flyers.
- It was also the Hurricanes’ eighth hat trick this year, giving them the most by any team this season. (Aho x3, Svechnikov x2, Martinook, Jarvis, Teravainen)