It isn’t often that the Carolina Hurricanes find themselves as the team on its heels. The one trying to survive wave after wave of opposing lines and shots. But that’s exactly the position that they found themselves in against the Toronto Maple Leafs Saturday night at PNC Arena.
And even though they seemed to be the team on the ropes, they survived and countered at the perfect times to ultimately pull off a 5-3 win.
While the overall game wasn’t ideal, the Canes could look to a few crucial aspects of their game that led them to the win. Namely, special teams and goaltending
The Hurricanes had a 5-on-3 opportunity within the first 1:30 of game time, and they made it count as Brent Burns called his shot, ringing one off the post and in from the high slot.
And while the Hurricanes would not receive another penalty call for the remainder of the game despite there being clear calls to be made — an issue that has become more and more apparent as the season counts down — the Canes’ perfect kill gave them the upper hand.
And they had to work for that edge too. The Maple Leafs put up 10 total shots on the power play, including six on their first crack on the man-advantage in the first period.
But the penalty killers put in the work with no bigger moment than the kill in the third period.
With Toronto buzzing, having already dismantled the Canes’ lead, Jordan Martinook committed a trip after failing to clear the zone.
The PKers put their heads down, went to work and immediately out of the kill, Carolina struck.
With a full-bodied effort, Stefan Noesen’s wraparound chance was halted right on the goal line, but he dove into the crease, pushing the loose puck over the line to give his team the lead.
And so while special teams were huge, the bigger piece of the puzzle was Pyotr Kochetkov.
The Russian rookie had struggled in his prior two starts, a 3-goals against loss to New Jersey and a 5-goals against loss to Toronto, but tonight he was like a man possessed.
Kochetkov was dynamite, especially in close, as he turned aside heaps of Toronto chances. He single handedly kept his team in the game while the team simply fell apart to the Leaf’s onslaught.
His 41 saves were the second most in franchise history by a rookie netminder and according to NaturalStatTrick.com, the Maple Leafs generated 6.3 expected goals, meaning that Kochetkov stopped 3.3 goals above expected.
That’s the second highest goals saved above expected total for the Hurricanes this season behind only Antti Raanta’s shutout win over the Ottawa Senators in February where he turned aside 3.82 goals above expected.
The timely saves were what Carolina needed to hang around with Toronto, and so even when Auston Matthews managed to shovel in a late, whistle-beating goal, Carolina was ready to counter attack.
As has happened so often, it was Sebastian Aho in the clutch, slamming home a rebound off of a Jaccob Slavin shot just 28 seconds after Matthews tied it back up.
And so Carolina, who were outshot 44-28, flipped the script they so often write, putting themselves in the part of the unlikely victor for another crucial two points.
The Hurricanes are back in action less than 24 hours later as they host the league leading Boston Bruins at PNC Arena Sunday evening at 5 p.m.