The Carolina Hurricanes played arguably their best period of the season Wednesday in the opening 20 minutes, but their two-goal lead evaporated the rest of the way and Carolina was fortunate to earn a point in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Panthers at PNC Arena.
Jordan Staal, Sebastian Aho and Vincent Trocheck scored for the Hurricanes, but Jonathan Huberdeau had two goals and three points — including the game-ending score in overtime
1. The Hurricanes have had, top to bottom, arguably the best groups of centers in the NHL this season. It got even better this week with the addition of Cedric Paquette to anchor the fourth line.
On Tuesday, none of them was the best center on the ice.
Huberdeau scored on the power play just past the game’s midway point to halve Carolina’s lead. Then early in the third, his beautiful spinning backhanded pass to Alex Wennberg tied the game and will probably show up on end-of-season highlight reels.
Huberdeau capped it all off with a breakaway goal in overtime to give Florida the win.
“Yeah, he played well,” Staal grudgingly admitted.
2. The Hurricanes had a dominant first 18 minutes, but it looked like they would come away empty-handed in the first period.
Then came the final two minutes.
In a period where the ice was severely tilted toward the Florida net, Carolina doubled up the Panthers in shot attempts yet was knotted at 0-0. The Hurricanes broke through at 18:28, with Staal scoring for the fourth straight game. Twenty-two seconds later, Aho redirected a Brett Pesce shot to give Carolina a 2-0 lead heading into the first intermission.
“We were ready to play, “Aho said,” and we played our game. We got pucks deep, we went to the forecheck, we got a lot of pucks back. They made a few turnovers, like on Jordo’s goal.”
Unfortunately for the Hurricanes, the first was the only one in which they were the better team.
“We took that penalty and then they scored,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said of Huberdeau’s power play goal at 10:52 of the second. “I thought everything changed after that. We were just on our heels the whole rest of the way and probably got fortunate even get a point out of it.”
3. Nedeljkovic had perhaps his best game in a Hurricanes uniform, making several good stops that fended off the Panthers when they were the better team after the first period.
But about that third goal.
Juho Lammikko’s seemingly harmless backhand from the bottom of the right circle found its way through Nedeljkovic’s pads — for his first NHL goal — to give Florida a 3-2 lead. Carolina did get it back — Trocheck scored in his first game against his former team on a beautiful redirection with under seven minutes remaining — but it was a tough moment for a goalie who is still trying to prove he belongs in the NHL.
“I thought he was good,” Brind’Amour said. “Tonight, obviously, you’d like to have that one back, but he made a couple of real big saves. … He certainly wasn’t the issue tonight. We weren’t very good.”
That’s all true. But Nedeljkovic has allowed a goal in the final seven minutes of each of his starts since Petr Mrazek was injured, all in tight games.
His last chance to redeem himself came in overtime, but on the heels of making all three stops in Saturday’s shootout to earn a win, he was unable to stop Huberdeau on a breakaway in overtime Wednesday.
Number To Know
28 — Combined goals this season for Brock McGinn, Nino Niederreiter, Staal and Trocheck, who are all tied for the Hurricanes team lead with seven goals in a combined 63 games (0.44 goals per game). Last season, Niederreiter had 11, Staal posted eight, McGinn seven and Trocheck had one in seven games with Carolina after coming over from Florida at the trade deadline. In 210 man games played for the Hurricanes, the foursome had just 27 goals (0.13 goals per game)
They Said It
“That’s a great team. So we just have to play better and keep our game going for 60 minutes.”
— Hurricanes center Sebastian Aho on Carolina’s poor play after a dominant first period
Vincent Trocheck, Hurricanes forward — Trocheck got the Hurricanes a point with his redirection of Andrei Svechnikov’s shot at the start of Carolina’s late-game power play.
It was surely an emotional game for Trocheck, who had to wait almost a full year to finally get to play a game against the team that drafted him and traded him after six-plus seasons.
Brind’Amour didn’t notice any difference.
“He’s been good all year,” the coach said of Trocheck. “So it’s not just tonight. He’s engaged and he competes. Sixty-minute effort from him. We’ve been fortunate that he’s played so well. That was a big goal just to get a point for us.”
Jake Gardiner, Hurricanes defenseman — This is a tough one because Gardiner was having a monster night. At one point in the game, he and partner Brett Pesce were both at a better than 80% Corsi For percentage and carrying play. Those numbers went the other way in the second half of the game, and Gardiner was the main culprit on Huberdeau’s overtime winner.
Carolina has had such success in overtime by holding onto the puck and biding its time for Grade-A chances. Gardiner tried to force a pass to Trocheck that was chipped the other way for Huberdeau, who went the length of the ice for the game-deciding goal.