Canes Split Florida Series, Take Over First Place 

Cary, NC — Both the Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers were tied for first place before this 2-game series.

Winning the first game 4-1 in regulation assured the Canes would leave Florida with no less than a tie and a chance to add points to their slim lead. After claiming the front end of the series, Carolina grabbed another mystery bonus point with a 4-3 OT loss in Saturday’s game.

Game 1: Aho’s 2 SHGs Lead Canes Over Panthers, 4-2

Sebastian Aho had 2 shorthanded goals, both assisted by Martin Necas, as the Canes started slow but came back with a force to beat the Florida Panthers 4-2 to have sole possession of first place, assuring at least a co-lead after the rematch Saturday night.

The players said it best after the game — these are teams that don’t like each other and the refs were busy doling out free passes to the penalty box as the Canes played virtually over an entire period man down as they had a season-high 25 minutes in penalties.

Penalty Kill Units Tested Early

According to Rod Brind’Amour, Petr Mrazek “tweaked something” so Roddy tapped Alex Nedeljkovic to go between the pipes against the Panthers. Ned has some impressive numbers: 1.87 GAA and a save % of .933, along with 3 shutouts in just 18 starts.

The Canes knew this would be a tough contest as the Panthers are well-coached by future Hall of Famer, Joel Quenneville, and are playing the best hockey since the beginning of their franchise. Plus, they are a big bruising team and won the free agent lottery last season when they signed goalie Sergei Bobrovsky to a multi-year, $10 million per year contract.

The Canes started slow, real slow for Roddy’s liking. It didn’t help that speedster Necas got the game’s first penalty with just 2:31 gone, testing the penalty kill early. The PK units were very effective ragging the puck, allowing just 1 shot on Ned that he easily handled.

Shortly after the penalty was over, Cedric Paquette and Ryan Lomberg dropped the gloves in front of both benches. Not sure what started that altercation but this game had plenty of chirping and trash-talking, on top of the pressure to stay in first place. While those two were cooling off in the box, the Panthers had numbers clearing their zone.

Ned Gets Unexpected Start

Gustav Forsling carried the puck over his blue line and just before the red line, made a gutsy cross-ice pass to Patrick Hornqvist on the right wing. Hornqvist took a long slap shop that Ned blocked to the backboards with Nikita Gusev picking it up and trying to stuff it on the right side. Ned slid over and slammed his skate to the pipe blocking any entry.

The puck was loose in front with Ned stacking the pads while on his side as the puck slid up to Aleksander Barkov inside the far circle who one-timed a slapped past Ned while he was down for the early 1-0 lead. Call that a wake-up call as up to that point the Canes were more in a change mode and only had 2 shots on net.

The Canes got a powerplay as Barkov tripped Fishy but the first unit wasn’t even able to set up once so with the puck frozen with just 40 seconds Roddy had the second unit go on the ice. The second unit didn’t have any better success as no shots were recorded for that man advantage.

To add salt on the wound, just as the penalty ended, a combination of a lazy line change and the refs sending a message, the Canes were called for too many men on the ice. Once again the Canes PK units were strong and little did they know, they were going to have a very busy night. Both teams had one other penalty in the period with neither able to have success on their respective man advantages.

Martinook, Niederreiter, Aho Put Canes In Lead

You can go to the bank that Roddy wasn’t pleased with the number of penalties in the first and wanted a full effort for the full period. The slow start was unacceptable and going against top teams, any letdown during a game can be lethal. If you’re going to need a change, who better to lead that change than the captain, Jordan Staal.

After winning the first faceoff of the second period, Jordan Martinook slid the puck back to Jake Gardiner. Gards held the puck that passed back to Mart who dumped the puck deep just as Jordo was build speed to cross over the blue line. Bobrovsky stopped the puck behind the net just as Jordo was closing in. Bob rimmed the puck back along the near boards that Marty snatched and rimmed back to Jordo behind the net.

Staal carried the puck to the far side of the net and outmuscled 2 defenders to slip the puck to the crease. Warren Foegele was tied up and couldn’t get his stick on the puck but with defenders concentrating on tying up a man, the puck slid for an easy set up for Martinook to slap home his second goal in two games for only the second time in his career with just 14 seconds gone in the period.

Canes Snatch the 2-1 Lead

At the 11:09 mark, the Canes got the lead with a powerplay goal by Nino Niederreiter. Necas had the puck along the far half boards, hooking a pass around a defender up to Gards. As Necas went back to the boards, Gards passed back to Necas who first looked for a shot but instead decided on a cross-ice pass to Brett Pesce. Pesch saw Nino and Jesper Fast providing traffic in front, letting go a slap shot that Bob blocker saved with the puck dropping in front that Nino wasted no time in banging home for the Canes 2-1 lead.

Late in the period with Pesch off for a tripping penalty and the Cats on a powerplay, Necas extended his stick and tipped a cross-ice pass that Quenneville will surely make a comment about in his locker room. Necas turned on his jets with Fishy joining to make a very rare 2-0 shorthand rush.

Necas and Fishy passed back and forth several times within 25’ of the goal that had Bob sliding in both directions but learned a hard lesson, the puck moves faster than a weighted down goalie with Fishy knocking in the puck for a sweet looking shortie.

Penalties, Roughing and Whistles Fill the 3rd

Not saying this ever happens as a general policy, but the refs did not have whistles in their pockets in the third as this was a period of mini and not so mini battles. Thank goodness there was no on-ice microphone as the trash-talking was at a game-high.

Dougie Hamilton got the period’s first penalty with a hooking call against Sam Bennett. With Dougie being such a huge part of the PK, and early in the period, if the Cats got on the board it could have been a game-changer but the PK units were solid. The game could have been summed up at what happened at the 9:52 mark.

With the first lines on the ice, as play was happening in front of the benches, which provides plenty of chirping and trash talk, Hornqvist wanted to start something with Fishy that immediately had all 10 skaters pair up with face washes and grabbing of the sweaters, the least of which was happening.

In the end, Fishy, Andrei Svechnikov, Hornqvist and Lomberg all went off for roughing.

Necas Nets 3rd Assist of Game On Aho’s 2nd Shortie

Steve Lorentz got a little too aggressive on the forechecking in the Cats’ end on the PK as he got called for tripping. A little over a minute later, with the puck deep in the Canes’ end, Jordo backhanded the puck off the glass but the refs called it. As replays showed it, the puck went into the seats without touching the glass to give the Cats a 5-on-3 advantage.

With just 5 seconds left on the 2-man advantage, the Cats potted a goal to narrow the score, 3-2. Jordo got a call for tripping on his first full shift after that other penalty and the Canes, led by some outstanding saves by Ned, killed that off. Barely a minute passed since that penalty ended when Vincent Trocheck got his stick caught between the legs of former Cane Eetu Luostarinen for a hooking call with just 1:42 left in the game.

Roddy put the speedsters upfront with Jaccob Slavin and Pesce on D. With the puck along the far boards and Pesce and Slavin creating havoc, the puck squirted out with Necas picking in up, skated to the high slot then flung the puck 130’ but the puck was about a foot wide.

Fishy, whose father is a hockey coach in Finland, did what all coaches in all sports say: follow the shot and don’t give up. He didn’t give up and beat out his man to spank the puck after rebounding off the backboards, into the net to seal the win with a career-high second short-handed goal in one game.

The number one star of the game was the entire PK unit with everyone who had a hand deserving accolades. The bad news of the game was Martinook took a hard hit, left the game in the second and didn’t return.

Game 2: Decimated Canes Fall In OT, 4-3

That hit Martinook took in the previous game didn’t look when it happened and to no surprise was out for the second game. Also out was Jesper Fast who as Roddy said was feeling some pain and with able bodies in the wings, now is not the time to go less than 100%.

Brady Skjei is out in the concussion protocol for that illegal hit from behind that was let go by both the on-ice officials and the NHL safety committee, Brock McGinn, Petr Mrazek and Teuvo Teravainen. Dougie Hamilton got 2 goals and Brett Pesce got the other but a strong third period by the Panthers forced OT that didn’t last long as Aleksander Barkov scored with just 24 seconds gone.

Hamilton’s Blast

To no one’s surprise, this game started out hard as first place on the line. The Canes are in the better position, starting with 2 more points and 2 more games to play but most coaches would rather have solid points over games as, according to Roddy, there are no weak teams.

Point taken as the Canes lost 2 of the 8 games against Florida in OT taking 14 of a possible 16 points, whereas, against Chicago, Columbus, and Detroit, all who probably won’t make the playoffs, the Canes have a slim edge on total games won. Roddy had to wait just before the game to set the roster as some players, like Fast, were game-time decisions.

Rather than not go at 100%, and remember this is on a Brind’Amour scale, players made the wise decision to sit this one out forcing Rod to come up with some creative line combinations. Rookie Steve Lorentz got the nod to join the first line with Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov and played a great game. Max McCormick and Drew Shore played their first games in a long time, while Joakim Ryan played in his second game for the Canes in as many games.

Dougie Hamilton got the Canes on the board early with a blast from the right point with only 3:25 gone in the first. Hamilton started the play in his end holding the puck for both teams to change lines then passed to Lorentz right at the Cats’ blue line. Lorie got the puck deep that Svechnikov retrieved, skated to the corner then passed back to Dougie.

Hamilton took a snap-style shot that bounced off 2 defenders then off the top of goalie Chris Driedger’s helmet to hit the crossbar then go in for a goal just as to how Dougie called it. Both coaches had to tell their teams to cool it on penalties which was the main topic of the previous game. The point was taken as each team had only 1 penalty, with Svech getting the Canes on another needless slashing call in the offensive end.

Alex Nedelkovic started the 3rd game in a row for the first time in his career and was solid during the Cats powerplay. Late in the period with less than 30 seconds left, Florida did a rare dump and chase which Pesch getting control below the goal line. Pesch may have thought he had more time for a choice to pass or rim the puck, but Sam Bennett came hard from the corner, tipped the puck off Pesce’s stick over to Jonathan Huberdeau who passed up to MacKenzie Weegar who cannoned a one-timer to the far side to tie the game.

Hamilton Gets Powerplay Goal

The second period saw both teams getting back to the choppiness and trash-talking that occurred throughout the previous game as each team was called for 3 penalties each but for the grace of the refs, could have been more. Failing to change directions after a rush, Frank Vatrano bowled over Ned for a goalie interference penalty.

Jordan Staal won the drawback to Hamilton who settled and went to the top center allowing the rest of the powerplay unit to get in position. Dougie passed over to Svech on the left who quickly passed down to Troch below the goal line. Troch looked to Jordo in the crease and without a clear pass to the front, passed behind the goal to Fishy who quickly passed up to Hamilton for a one-timer that found the back of the net with Jordo providing a great screen.

The refs were doing a good job on crowd control as in the second, they were not only calling more penalties you could see them talking more to players which is typically either a warning or an explanation of what could or did happen.

The oddest penalty was Nino Niederreiter getting called for interference at the 20-minute mark. Nino may be from Switzerland but is not neutral on playing hard host-type hockey and may in fact enjoy the physicality of a solid, and legal, hit. Other than the Canes getting a powerplay goal from Hamilton’s blast, both man-down defenders play very well backed by both goalies.

Pesce or Svechnikov Make It 3-1, But Quickly It’s All Tied Up

Rod constantly preaches, as all good coaches do, that it takes a full 60 minutes to win any game. It’s not that the Canes ran out of gas in the third, but it looked like there may be been some running on fumes.

In the previous game, Pesce played over 28 minutes and spent 2 minutes in the box. Slavin played over 27 minutes with 12 on the PK which is unbelievable. The Canes added to their lead at the 3:04 mark with a blast from Pesch from the left point.

The official call was Pesch’s goal after bouncing in off a defender but from the replays I’ve looked at, the puck appears to hit Svech’s skate then go in. Who cares, it was a goal to put the Canes up 3-1 in the third with just under 17 minutes to go. The Cats got a quick one back when Huberdeau got a cross-ice pass, took a slap shot that Ned was a fraction of a second late on getting his skate to the post that I’m sure he’d want back.

Good teams respond quickly and that’s exactly what the Cats did. Two and a half minutes later with the puck in the Canes end, after a shot by Weegar that Ned stopped but couldn’t control in the midst of bodies in the crease, Alex Weinberg managed to swat a backhander under Ned’s pads to tie the game. His happened on a Canes powerplay to make that goal hurt that much more.

Cats Take the 4-3 Win in Overtime

The rest of the period was hard-fought with Rod really shortening his bench with Shore only having a game total on ice of 4:92 while McCormick had 3:42 and the game low was Ryan Lomberg of the Cats with just 2:58. He might have been in the dog house with Quenneville as he had a turnover that led to a Cane goal. With the game ending at 3 apiece, the game went into overtime.

Troch won the critical first faceoff giving the Canes possession as he drew the puck back to Slavo. Slavo settled the puck then all 3 Canes started their play to go up ice. Slavo passed to Troch on the right, went in the Cats zone and tried to toe drag the puck between 2 defenders but was bumped/ tripped losing the puck.

Driedger swatted the puck to Barkov near the circle continued through the neutral zone into the Canes end then with Weegar on his left and only Slavo back took a shot that Ned initially stopped but the puck squiggled in to with the game with just 24 seconds gone. Canes got that mystery bonus point to allow them to retain sole possession of first place.