Cary, NC — It may seem odd for the team in the overall NHL first place position to not have one player have a hat trick all year, and that could be a first.
Fortunately, with just 5 games left in the season, the Canes can now check that box as Sebastian Aho got a natural hat trick with the Canes dominating the Chicago Blackhawks 5-2 in the first of 3 consecutive games. The last player to get a hat trick was Andrei Svechnikov during the playoffs last year while in the bubble, so somehow he’s due for the traditional celebration of the 3-goals-in-a-game feat.
Game 1: Aho’s Hat Trick Powers Canes Past Blackhawks, 5-2
The Chicago Blackhawks are a good team. They have the best-ever U.S.-born player in Patrick Kane who is also a former MVP. They also have Duncan Keith, a former Norris Trophy winner, who is still as solid as anyone on defense while having that lethal offensive threat, and the youngster Alec DeBrincat who has 26 goals this season.
Coach Rod Brind’Amour constantly has his team prepared for today’s game, never looking at past games and harps on only addressing the next game — not next week’s game and not the playoffs. He will also say their goal is to “be the last team standing” and that starts with focusing on the today.
The Canes were ready for this game and once the puck was dropped, players on both sides of the puck were all business. The Hawks’ David Kampala won the opening faceoff but it was short-lived. After a hit by Jordan Staal on Mike Hardman deep in the Hawks’ end, it was all Hurricanes for what seemed the entire period but was really just 7 minutes before Alex Nedelkovic made his second save.
Hamilton’s Impossible Angle Goal
After 5 consecutive line changes with the puck in the Hawk’s end, Dougie Hamilton pinched deep to about 5’ above the crease and sent a wrister that Malcolm Subban blocked with the pads. Martin Necas grabbed the rebound and passed up to Vincent Trocheck who filled in for Hamilton on the left point.
Tro viewed the landscape then made a 55’ pass to Hamilton in the far corner. Hamilton used his body to protect the puck, faking right and truning left and going below the goal line. He flung the puck towards the net and the puck evidently had eyes as Subban was partially screened, seeing the puck at the last moment.
He thought he had redirected the puck to the near side but the puck tipped the toe of his stick and went between the legs for a goal from a negative angle. Knowing Hamilton’s sense of humor, I’m sure he told the bench he called for a bank shot.
The Canes continued to completely dominate play, keeping the puck in the Hawks with relentless forechecking.
Necas Pots His 12th, Gives Canes the 2-0 Lead
Nino Niederreiter grabbed a loose puck in the mid slot in front of Subban, circling to get clear before banking a backhand pass off the boards up to Jake Bean. Beaner moved right and passed up to Vincent Trocheck now on the left point, settling the puck to allow a play to be set up. Necas built up speed along the near boards circling behind Troch who dropped a pass for him.
Necas picked up the puck in stride, going parallel 4′ in front of the blue line. He reached the high slot, then, with Nino paying the price in the crease, sent a slap shot that rang off the post for a 2-0 Canes lead. Late in the period, Sebastian Aho got the only penalty of the period for hooking but the penalty kill team was very strong and did not allow a shot on goal.
Aho Nets 2 In The Second, Extends Lead to 4-0
The Hawks only had 4 shots on goal in the first and Coach Jeremy Colliton must have addressed that during the first intermission. If that’s the case, the Hawks responded and started to at least get the puck in the Canes’ end.
With the puck in the far corner to the left of Ned, Jaccob Slavin magically poke-checked the puck off the stick of Dominick Kubalik right to Brady Skjei. Skjei smartly reversed the puck, rimming it up along the boards. Svech grabbed the puck and seeing open ice, used his speed to go through the neutral zone, blowing by Connor Murphy who got so twisted he went down trying to swipe the puck as he was flat on the ice.
Vinnie Hinostroza was trying to corral Svech but he opted to stay wide and keep his stick extended, still controlling the puck. He waited for the perfect time to slide the puck along the ice for Aho to spank in it for a great-looking goal.
Less than 5 minutes later, Necas was going through the neutral zone near the Hawks blue line, splitting between 2 defenders when he was tripped, giving the Canes their second powerplay.
The first powerplay was fine on the possession and execution but no desired result — a goal — and the #1 powerplay unit in the NHL wanted to add to their lead.
Jordo won a hard battle along the boards and got the puck up to Dougie on the right point. Dougie had so much time and space he could have baked a cake, but instead saw Fishy all alone in front of Subban with his stick angled just so. Dougie sent a hard pass right on the ice that hit Fishy’s angled stick, sending the puck to the inside of the top of the net for the solid 4-0 lead.
Colliton made the necessary goalie change, not a reflection on Subban, but certainly on the team play and the need for a change. That message was well-received as the Hawks play definitely improved after the goalie change. Very late in the period, Kubalik dumped and chased the puck deep along the boards behind Ned.
Slavo and Hamilton crunched Kubalik, leaving Dylan Strome to quickly pick up the loose puck, heading behind Ned to wait for teammates to join the play. Ian Mitchell hopped over the boards, skated hard into the Canes end with Strome feeding a crisp pass that Mitchell blasted past Ned to get the Hawks on the board.
Aho Completes Hat Trick
Building off the late goal in the second, the Hawks play was better at the start of the third. The Canes are a smart team and can read the flow of a game and read the current play as being equal. So —what does a smart team do? They pick up their own play.
The game was more 200’ hockey than in any previous period. As long as the shots for the Hawks were few and far between, the Canes were fine with that. Ned wasn’t challenged that much all game as he only faced 17 shots all game. It was the 15th shot that got the Hawks within 2.
Kubalik had the puck in his own defensive zone when he spotted DeBrincat right at the Canes’ blue line in front of the bench and made the long cross-ice pass. DeBrincat greased his way along the boards, twisting Skjei around, causing him to fall to the ice. DeBrincat used his speed and took a shot from 30’ out to the far side for his 26th of the season. Very good-looking goal to give the Hawks somewhat hope for the game.
Colliton pulled the goalie with about 2-½ minutes left in the game and the strategy almost paid off as the Hawks got off 2 good shots that Ned handled. With the Hawks pressuring in the Canes’ end, Strome had the puck at the goal line to the right of Ned, passing up to Kubalik inside the far circle. Kubalik wound up for the one-timer when Jesper Fast, playing in his first game after nursing an injury, laid out on the ice to block the shot.
The puck went out high with Fishy gaining possession with Patrick Kane right on his heels. Fishy had excellent body position kept his speed and won the battle putting the puck into the empty net for his, and the Canes’ first hat trick of the season. The win gives the Canes a nice slim lead over Vegas for the Presidents Trophy which according to Roddy is the least important trophy awarded. When looking at their goal, he’s more than right.
Game 2: Canes Wake Up in 2nd Period, Blow By Hawks, 6-3
After a forgetful first period in which the Chicago Blackhawks earned 2 goals, the Canes rebounded with 4 unanswered goals on the way to a 6-3 victory.
Another subtitle could be, “Deuces were wild” as 6 players had 2 points in a game with Andrei Svechnikov (2g, 1a) and Teuvo Teravainen (1g, 2a) topping all players with 3 points each. There were a couple of players that were game-time decisions and during warmups, both gave Rod Brind’Amour the thumbs up so the Canes roster was the same as the night before.
Hawks Go Up 2-0
The Chicago Blackhawks were expected to (and did) start this game with a more aggressive approach after the game the night before. The Hawks and the Canes are built the same with the Canes having an edge on defense.
Patrick Kane is clearly a superstar — forget the fact he’s 32, there’s very little, if anything, that has fallen off his game. Alex DeBrincat is there to carry the torch and like Aho, was a steal for the Hawks when taken in the second round in the 2016 draft. He’s fast, very fast, has greasy moves with soft hands and can snipe from anywhere on the ice.
The Canes had a chance to open the scoring with the first powerplay after Turbo was tripped by Dylan Strome. The first PP unit was on the ice with Vincent Trocheck holding the puck on the near side, north of the circle. Not seeing any openings, Tro decided to pass up to Dougie Hamilton on the top of the umbrella. The pass was a little wide to the stick side, forcing Dougie to stretch and skooch the puck over to Sebastian Aho along the far half boards.
Fishy didn’t get a great handle on controlling the puck and attempted to push the puck back to Hamilton. DeBrincat intercepted the pass, pushed it over the blue line, and blew past everyone to go in on Petr Mrazek all alone snapping a wrister to Mrazek’s stick side for a great individual short-handed goal. This player is very talented and is a threat, like Kane, every minute on the ice.
The rest of the powerplay was powerless and the sense of the game slipping towards the Blackhawks got real. In the 13th minute the puck was in the Hawks’ end. As they were slowing play for a line change, Kane, waiting patiently along his own half boards, got the puck just as Nino Niederreiter was closing in. Kane made a typical nonchalant but accurate backhand flip pass right onto the stick of rookie MacKenzie Entwistle.
Entwistle crossed his blue line sped into the Canes end sending a hard shot as he got to the top of the circle to Mrazek’s right. Mrazek kicked out a pad save right up the middle of Broadway with fellow rookie Mike Hardman getting a step on Brady Skjei to smack it in for his first goal in the NHL and Entwistle’s first NHL assist.
Down 2-0, there was no panic on the Canes bench nor was Roddy pulling his mask down giving a Tortorella-type reason to play better.
To a player, each Cane knew what needed to be done. The period belonged to the Hawks outshooting the Canes 12-8 and primed to start the second with a majority of a late penalty by Troch in the first.
Niederreiter & Svechnikov Tie Game At 2
The Canes successfully killed the tail end of the penalty with the tide starting to flow in the Canes direction. With the play in the Hawk’s end, Troch had the puck in the far corner, started going up the half boards then flipped a puck back to Nino in the corner.
Nino went left, right, then passed to an open Morgan Geekie behind the goal. Geekie’s eyes got real big as he saw an opportunity and took it. He went around the goal, started to pick up the puck for a lacrosse/Svech shot but the puck slid off the toe of his stick.
Seeing Nino going in the greasy area of the slot unmarked, Geekie flipped the puck as a pass, not a shot, right to Nino who flipped it in to get the Canes on the board. While the shots for the period were close, 11 for the Canes 10 for the Hawks, the shots by the Canes were really testing Hawks goalie Collin Delia. Mrazek wasn’t challenged as much but when called upon, came up big.
With a few seconds before the final 4 minutes of the period, the Canes scored a goal off a set play. Turbo won the drawback to Jaccob Slavin on the left point. As the puck was in motion, Svech went to the high slot with Slavo passing over to Svech who let go only his 3rd slap shot all year. The shot hit the leg of a Hawk defender tricking Delia resulting in knotting the game at 2 goals each.
The Canes defense was in a shutdown mode all period, just relentless whenever the Hawks got in the Canes end. Goals are nice but it was the defense that changed the tone of the game.
Canes Net 4 Goals in 3rd Period
Early in the third, Skjei was carrying the puck for a clear in front of Mrazek when Strome knocked the puck loose. Just as Adan Gaudette was going to grab the puck, Slavo dove for the puck, stretching his stick to swat the puck to Turbo in the neutral zone.
Turbo saw Svech had a step on his man and redirected the puck to Svech who gained speed and used his strength to ward off his defender who, at the last second, hooked Svech. But, he was still able to put in a sweet backhander up high for a great-looking goal to put the Canes up by 1 and they never looked back.
Just 3 minutes later, on their first shift after the Svech goal, Fishy had the puck in the center zone going over the Hawks blue line and passed to Svech on the right. Svech held the puck for a second, then passed down to Fishy below the far circle. Fishy created space, started to the goal, then fed Turbo in the low slot who buried a wrister for a 2 goal lead.
Just under 5 minutes later, the Kane-DeBrincat combo connected again. The Hawks were on a line change with Kane holding the puck just inside the blue line along the near boards. Kane has a knack for making hard tasks look easy. He used that skill to flip the puck over a Canes stick for a self pass before going inside the blue line towards the center. Kane eyed DeBrincat just coming in from the bench and laid out a soft drop pass that DeBrincat picked up. All it took was 2 long strides before he blasted the puck past Mrazek.
Late in the period, Jordo got called for tripping Gaudette, giving the Hawks a silver platter opportunity to get back in the game. Coach Jeremy Colliton did a gutsy move by pulling Delia, giving the Hawks a 2-man advantage.
With seconds left on the powerplay, Martin Necas intercepted a pass up high and knocked the puck into the neutral zone. Being quick to the puck, Necas wasted no time in sending the puck 105’ into the empty net for a short-handed goal. A minute later with Delia back on the bench, Troch won a battle for the puck along the Canes backboards, flipping the puck to Necas.
Necas had all the time and space to survey the lay of the land then saw Nino jump in front of a Hawk. Necas passed to Nino who in half-speed, went through the neutral zone and shot into the empty net just as he crossed the Hawks blue line. Nice to see the Canes come back after being down by 2 in the first.
They’ll learn that no game is out of reach if they play “their game” or Roddy’s type of hockey. Next matchup is against the Blackhawks once again on Thursday at PNC for the last regular-season home game at PNC Arena. Go Canes!
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