“You’ve just gotta have a short memory. Just focus on the next shift.”
That’s what Jesper Fast said in regards to his open-net miss early on in Game 5 of the Carolina Hurricanes’ second-round series with the New Jersey Devils.
“I saw it a couple of times on the replay, but I knew he was looking for me and I don’t know if I kind of misjudged the pass a little bit or if it hit the defensemen’s stick, but the puck slowed down a little bit. I was kind of in the movement of shooting and it kind of slowed down and I didn’t really have the patience to settle the puck properly so I fanned on it a little bit.”
The goal would have given Carolina a 1-0 lead in a series clinching Game 5, and perhaps given the team an easier path to the finish line, but it was not meant to be.
The Swedish forward was upset with himself, mostly because he’s a team-first guy. He knew how important that first tally would have been for his teammates to relieve the pressure and put them in the driver’s seat.
“He was getting a little mad on the bench,” said Jesperi Kotkaniemi. “But that’s how great stories begin.”
Good players don’t dwell on goals that could have been. They get back up, go to work and keep competing.
Eventually, Fast’s time came again and this time he made it count with an overtime, series-winning stamp.
“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. Then a lot of happy emotions. I just blacked out a little bit. I don’t know what I did, but I had a lot of guys coming at me. It was a good feeling. You just hear 20 guys coming at you screaming and then they gave me some punches there. A good memory.”
Some may call it fate, the way this Carolina Hurricanes team keeps finding unlikely heroes, and you know, maybe it is. Fast stated himself that he just had a feeling about his goal.
“I had a weird feeling going into overtime,” Fast said on his goal. “I missed two kind of good opportunities, so I felt like the next one was going to go in.”
And the fact that he was even on the power play was a decision that Brind’Amour had only made recently, just to have another righty on the ice with the second power play unit.
In fact, that unit almost didn’t even see the ice in overtime.
“It was interesting because we had a minute there, we had our timeout, and me and Jeff [Daniels] were talking about whether or not to take our timeout and let these guys go, but I was like, ‘No,’” Brind’Amour said. “Stastny is a great faceoff guy and it was just kind of a feel. Let’s just let these guys get a crack at it. He won the draw and they run their set. Fast’s been thrown on there, doesn’t play much on the power play, but I know one thing. He’s going to stand in front and he got rewarded for it.”
Sometimes, things just seem to fall into place.
Overall, Fast has had a tremendous postseason for the Hurricanes. Not just with his defensive game that he is known for, but also for the emergence of himself as a true offensive weapon.
The Swede is now tied for the team lead in goals with five and those have all come in different ways and different scenarios. Fast has scored shorthanded, at even-strength, into an empty net, once in overtime before, and now on the power play, in overtime, to clinch a series.
Even outside of the goals, the defensive winger has stayed true to his roots.
Fast still had a job to do, namely erasing New Jersey’s top player, and he was damn good at it throughout the series, helping to make Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier non-factors for the majority of games.
Just take last night. He played a hard and grindy game, with four shots and six hits in 16:07 of ice time and from that hard work, he was rewarded.
“His play on the ice, you see the effort every night,” said head coach Rod Brind’Amour. “It never deviates. I just love when those guys get rewarded like this and get their due. Had a great series and has had a great playoffs.”
Fast might not be the flashiest of players, nor is he the most talented, but he’s the kind of player any winning team needs. A selfless and devoted skater who does whatever it takes to help the team win.
Whatever the scenario and whatever the situation, you know whenever Fast hits the ice, he’s going to do his job and do it to the best of his abilities. It’s just what he does.
Now halfway to the ultimate goal, players like Jesper Fast are proving just how valuable they are.