The Carolina Hurricanes certainly didn’t play their best hockey game inside the Bell Centre Tuesday night, falling behind 2-0 to the Montreal Canadiens early while struggling to get to their game.
But in the end, the Canes found two points, beating the Canadiens in a shootout wrapped up by a delicious moment for Jesperi Kotkaniemi as an arena full of fans of the losing team reigned down boos on their former winger.
To add another sweet note to a fortunate two points, the New Jersey Devils fell in regulation to the Toronto Maple Leafs as the Canes extended their lead in the Metro to four points with one fewer game played.
About last night:
Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s last laugh
The Jesperi Kotkaniemi-Montreal Canadiens saga is a well-known thing, at this point. Kotkaniemi was drafted third overall by the Habs in 2018, scored 62 points in three seasons for the Canadiens and then accepted an offer sheet to join the Hurricanes in the summer of 2021.
Since then, Kotkaniemi has been the unfair recipient of a plethora of online hate from some (not all, never judge a fanbase by the loudest Twitter users) Montreal fans who can’t seem to get KK out of their head.
So Tuesday night in Montreal, Kotkaniemi got the last laugh in a comeback win for the Canes that came to a sweet conclusion as Kotkaniemi blasted the game-winning shootout tally to give the second point to Carolina.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi wins it for Carolina in the shootout, in Montreal.— Walt Ruff (@WaltRuff) March 8, 2023
Storybook stuff. pic.twitter.com/LSzGKPG4oO
As the fans in the Bell Centre, heading home after witnessing a loss, showered boos onto Kotkaniemi, the young Finn was embraced by his entire team climbing over the boards onto the ice.
It was an awesome moment for Kotkaniemi, who now has two goals, three points and a shootout winner in just four games against his former team.
Blue line bolsters comeback effort
The first two periods were rough for the Hurricanes, as Montreal controlled the game and the Canes never really looked to be into it. It’s not something that has happened much, if at all, for Carolina this season, but Tuesday the team was just kind of bad during the first two periods of the night.
But despite that bad, the Canes stayed in things. And it was the defensemen who were to thank, as Carolina got its scoring from the blue line as the team as a whole struggled.
After surrendering a second goal of the first period to go down 2-0, the Canes got one back just 15 seconds later as Jaccob Slavin opened the ledger for the visitors with a quick snipe off a good feed from Derek Stepan.
Derek Stepan is given way too much space and he sets up #74 for his fifth point in five games.— Walt Ruff (@WaltRuff) March 8, 2023
That's a slick shot. pic.twitter.com/eALe1EeK28
Then in the second period, Brady Skjei tied the game just a minute into the frame.
For the Canes, blue line production is nothing new. With Slavin’s goal, the Canes now have four defensemen with 20 or more points this season (not including Shayne Gostisbehere, who has 35 points but just four with the Canes).
It's all made possible by Jesperi Kotkaniemi winning the draw.— Walt Ruff (@WaltRuff) March 8, 2023
This is a beautiful view of an insane pass by Brett Pesce, too. pic.twitter.com/NYLmUmMJ3i
The Canes have led the league for most of the season in goals from blue liners, and Tuesday night it was that offensive ability from the back end that kept Carolina in the game.
Freddie stepping up
Antti Raanta started the game in net for the Hurricanes, but only played the first period as he exited during the first intermission with an injury. The exit was precautionary and things sound mostly good on the Raanta front, but Frederik Andersen had to come in after sitting for a period Tuesday night. And he did really, really well.
Andersen made 13 saves on 14 shots faced, a couple of times making key stops in big moments to give the Hurricanes a chance. Then in the shootout, Andersen made a handful of strong stops to keep giving the Hurricanes chances to win the thing.
When Andersen came into the game, the Canes were down 2-1. When things ended, Carolina had two points. It’s really hard for any goalie to come off the bench and perform, but Andersen looked like it was just any other game.
- The big bugaboo, apart from the poor start, on the night is the injuries, as both Raanta and Jalen Chatfield left the game. Rod Brind’Amour said postgame that both were precautionary, so that’s good.
- Carolina’s fourth line was awesome and did some really good things to keep the Canes going. For mainly Derek Stepan (one assist) — but also Paul Stastny (one assist) and Stefan Noesen — it was a great effort from all of them to show they belong with Jesse Puljujarvi waiting to join the squad and take a spot.
- Kotkaniemi’s shootout winner was fun and the big moment, but good lord was Teuvo Teravainen’s goal that kept the Hurricanes alive in the shootout filthy.
How disgusting was this from Teuvo Teravainen in Round Three to keep the #Canes alive?— Walt Ruff (@WaltRuff) March 8, 2023
- The Canes got the win, but Jake Allen was awesome in net for Montreal. Tip of the cap for a really impressive performance. Allen did a ton in overtime to even get the game to a shootout.