The Carolina Hurricanes advanced to the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since 2019 thanks to Jesper Fast’s tally in a 3-2 overtime win in Game 5 Thursday night at PNC Arena.
It was a total team effort up and down the lineup, as defensively and offensively, the team kept things tight against a desperate New Jersey Devils squad.
While the Hurricanes had a slower first two periods, they managed to still enter the third tied, and from there, were by far the better team.
Carolina actually had the better jump to start the first period, but they just couldn’t get that extra inch on a couple of plays.
Seth Jarvis hit a post, Martin Necas and Jarvis both missed each other with alternating backdoor feeds, Fast shanked a puck over a yawning cage, Aho couldn’t connect on yet another backdoor pass and many more.
And when you don’t capitalize, it always feels like the other team does.
It was just a really well run play by the Devils.
On a 3-on-2, Michael McLeod entered the Canes’ zone through the middle and passed it across to Timo Meier who laid a perfect pass across to Dawson Mercer at the backpost where the rookie forward had busted his butt all the way down the ice to make it to.
The Canes punched back early in the second period though as a Jaccob Slavin point shot redirected off of a Devil and in.
“We just keep doing what we’re doing,” Slavin said. “We like to get pucks to the net. It’s part of our system, so we continue to do that. Got a lucky bounce on that first one. We just continued to attacked, but we know that we have to take care of our end first. Playing good defense, you’re going to have good opportunities for offense.”
After that, Carolina was buzzing, really hemming New Jersey in, but a careless penalty by Jesperi Kotkaniemi turned the tide.
The Devils quickly capitalized on their power play as Meier punched home a loose puck that Andersen couldn’t handle, and after that it was all New Jersey.
But if you thought the first period was full of missed chances, then the second was a real treat.
Miss after miss after miss. Whether it be passes just off, or shots going wide, or overpassing of the puck, or Timo Meier shoving the puck through the crease with a wide-open cage.
The puck was just sailing back and forth through the neutral zone and Carolina looked like they were in the wringer.
But Andersen and the Canes were in survival mode and once they got a little breathing room, they punched back hard.
With under a minute remaining in the second period, Carolina won an offensive zone faceoff and eventually cycled the puck back to the blueline where Brent Burns rocketed one home to tie it up.
That’s hockey for you.
The Hurricanes just looked like the hungrier team from then on, a testament to their experience and mental fortitude
“We knew we still had our best hockey to play and I think we showed that in the third and carried it into overtime,” Slavin said.
Akira Schmid and Frederik Andersen both battled hard for their clubs, but it was the Dane that was standing alone at the top in the end.
“I’m just having fun,” Andersen said. “That’s been the biggest takeaway for me. I’ve waited for a few years to get this opportunity, just making the best of it and enjoying it.”
In overtime, Jonas Siegenthaler airmailed the puck out of play, giving the Canes a chance on the man-advantage. The first unit didn’t get much going, so out came the second.
Paul Stastny won the draw, something the first unit failed to do in four faceoff opportunities, and they went to work. They cycled it across and eventually, Kotkaniemi took a shot with Fast out in front and the Finnish to Swedish connection came through, as Fast sealed the series.
“I know it hit me, but I haven’t seen actually where it hit me,” Fast said. “I felt it and then looked back and it was in the net. A lot of happy emotions.”
“I had a weird feeling going into overtime. I missed two kind of good opportunities, so I felt like the next one was going to go in.”
“The best part about this team is that we always find a way to win the game,” Kotkaniemi said. “I’m sure it wasn’t our best game, the first two periods were kind of tough, but we pulled it together.”
“Work’s not done yet. We still got a lot of work ahead of us.”
“I don’t think you can understate it,” Brind’Amour said. “With the guys we have missing. I don’t know how many teams that with a whole top line out, that’d be able to trudge along the way we are. But it says a lot to these other guys that are now getting some credit. If you don’t have them, you have no chance. I’m just really proud of the group. That’s it. I’m just the old guy sitting behind the bench, watching and enjoying how hard everybody’s working and together. It’s a great group.”
“We already had a strong belief just the way we played all year,” Brind’Amour said. “I thought as a group, we were okay. We played okay. We didn’t get a lot of results in that last little bit, but it wasn’t like we were not good enough to win.”
“We’re a little more experienced,” Brind’Amour said on the differences of this year’s group. “Sometimes you have to, I hate to say learn to lose before you can learn to win, but it’s part of that. What it takes. A little bit of that for sure. Our guys are growing up. The young guys are not so young anymore, but I think the additions we made… I keep going back to Burns. I know he’s a little older, but man, he’s a special player and I don’t know where we’d be without him. So you’ve gotta give our management a lot of credit for finding these guys. Even the guys that are helping us out. Noesen’s been phenomenal this year. Mac comes in. Everyone that’s stepped up has helped. That’s the part that’s why we’re still talking about our team and will be for at least another round. It’s a pretty good group.”