Hurricanes winger Martin Necas scored the game’s only goal, finishing off a saucer pass from captain Jordan Staal at 1:12 of overtime to give Carolina a 1-0 win Thursday over Tampa Bay in its first home game of the season and return to the ice after a weeklong shutdown due to COVID-19.
Petr Mrazek had his second shutout of the season, stopping 32 shots, while Lightning goal Andrei Vasilevskiy was equally spectacular, making 35 saves.
1. Based on how well the Hurricanes looked in the first period, not many would have guessed Carolina was playing for the first time since Jan. 18 and without five regulars who are in the league’s COVID-19 protocol. Jesper Fast, Warren Foegele, Jordan Martinook, Jaccob Slavin and Teuvo Teravainen all missed the game, and Carolina filled its roster with an influx of taxi squaders and an AHL player.
Despite all that, the Hurricanes looked like the better team at the start, outshooting the defending Stanley Cup champions 15-7 in the opening frame. Three players made their Carolina debuts: Max McCormick, Sheldon Rempal and Steven Lorentz, who was also playing in his first NHL game.
“Five guys out that we really rely on and a lot of new guys come in, and they did the job,” coach Rod Brind’Amour said.
2. Carolina’s Mrazek and Tampa Bay’s Vasilevskiy exchanged big saves in a game that went without a goal until the overtime winner.
Brind’Amour was impressed with both goalies.
“Petr just looked great tonight,” he said. “He looked like he was on it right from the start. … I mean, look at the other guy at the other end. There was some saves there that were ridiculous, too.”
If the shorthanded Hurricanes were going to beat the Lightning, they needed their goalie to be a difference-maker. While Vasilevskiy arguably made more big saves, only one of the two could end up with a shutout, and it was Mrazek.
“We need that,” Brind’Amour said of getting reliable play in net. “Obviously, you’re not going anywhere without goaltending.”
3. It felt like a night when an ugly goal would decide it. Instead, it was a beauty.
Staal won the opening faceoff of overtime and left the ice to allow the more offensively gifted Sebastian Aho — foreshadowing — to enter the fray. Aho and Andrei Svechnikov stayed on the ice and wore down the Lightning, then made a line change that brought Staal and Necas over the boards.
Necas, at center ice, fed the puck to Staal at the left wing and made a straight line toward the Tampa net, blowing by a heavy-legged Ondrej Palat to create a 2-on-1. Staal feathered a perfect pass over Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman’s stick, and Necas took it off one hop and lifted if over a lunging Vasilevskiy for the win.
It was the first goal of the season for Necas and first point for Staal, who was playing for just the second time after being the first Hurricanes player to fall ill with COVID-19. In connecting on the play, the duo bested both a Norris Trophy and Vezina Trophy winner.
“He’s got that ability that I call gamebreaking,” Brind’Amour said of Necas. “5-on-5 is hard and it’s tight, and then you get those those specialty times, you need to have those special players. … He’s starting to really emerge.”
Number To Know
15 — Shot attempts for Hedman, who trailed only Svechnikov (six shots on goal) in the game with five shots on goal and took another 10 that were either blocked (six) or missed the net (four).
They Said It
“We went 2-on-1 and he made a beautiful sauce to me, and I just kind of like slashed it in.”
— Necas on scoring the winning goal off a perfect saucer pass from Staal.
Petr Mrazek, Hurricanes goalie — There’s not much to say other than Mrazek went head-to-head with the best goalie in hockey and came out on top.
“It’s always a challenge to play a goalie like he is, and especially the Stanley Cup champions from last year,” Mrazek said. “So it was a big challenge, and I think for everyone it was exciting.”
Mrazek now has two shutouts in three games this season, and it’s hard to find anything wrong with a 2-1-0 record with a 1.01 goals-against average and .955 save percentage. Is it sustainable? Of course not, but Mrazek is a player who thrives on emotion and momentum. In a shortened season, even a two- or three-week run like this from a goalie could make a big difference in playoff positioning.
Brock McGinn, Hurricanes forward — McGinn’s main job is to keep pucks out of his own net not put them in the other one, so on that front it was a big “Mission: Accomplished” for No. 23. It was also a game that felt like one mistake would be the difference, and McGinn made a big one early by taking a penalty just 93 seconds into the game in the offensive zone.
All five players the Hurricanes were missing Thursday contribute on the penalty kill, and when McGinn headed into the box in the opening minutes, it meant the Carolina was down another player from their shorthanded crew.
Fortunately for McGinn, his teammates stepped up — much like he has countless times during his career as one of Carolina’s top penalty killers — to erase the early mistake.