RALEIGH — “Happy learned how to putt. Uh-oh.”
In the final act of the Adam Sandler golf comedy “Happy Gilmore,” the hockey-loving title character — known for his other-worldly length off the tee — fashions a putter into the shape of a hockey stick. Suddenly, his one weakness — ineptness on the greens — turns into a strength, clearing a path for him to beat villain Shooter McGavin and win the “gold jacket.”
Golf is the last thing hockey players want to think about this time of year, but the Hurricanes may have, like Happy, corrected their one fatal flaw at the trade deadline.
In two games since coming over from the Arizona Coyotes, Shayne Gostisbehere — one of the NHL’s top offensive-minded defensemen — has sparked a Carolina power play that sputtered much of the season.
A unit that was ranked 23rd in the NHL — last among teams in a playoff spot at the time — before Gostisbehere was acquired for a 2026 third round pick jumped all the way to 13th after going 7 for 9 in blowout wins over Arizona and Tampa Bay in the days after the March 3 deadline.
“The Hurricanes learned to power play. Uh-oh.”
Now at 22%, the Hurricanes’ power play is ahead of the Devils and within about a percentage point of some of the teams known for their lethal man-advantage attacks: the Bruins, Rangers and Avalanche.
No, the Hurricanes didn’t “win the deadline” by adding Gostisbehere and Jesse Puljujarvi, who finally joined the team Tuesday in Montreal after working out his visa issues. Carolina even swung and missed on the biggest name on the market, making a competitive offer — one that some believe presented more value to the Sharks than what they accepted from New Jersey — for Timo Meier but then didn’t scramble for an alternative when they lost out.
The team also didn’t strike out on its other targets. Both Gostisbehere and Puljujarvi are seen by the front office as clear upgrades to the bottom of the team’s lineup.
“The truth is going to come later, right?” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said following Sunday’s dominant 6-0 win over the Lightning. “But it’s nice to have an early impression like that and quiet people, not that we listen to it. But now they can say, ‘Well, wait a minute, maybe this is the right fit’ and stop talking about it, I guess. But the proof’s always gonna be later, as we know.”
The Hurricanes also decided to stand pat at center, giving a vote of confidence to Jesperi Kotknaniemi as the second line pivot. He responded against Tampa Bay with a career-high five points and now has 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in his last 14 games.
“I think he started just getting more strength to his game, started understanding how to play a little better,” said Brind’Amour, always quick to mention that Kotkaniemi is still just 22 years old. “And obviously he’s playing with good players, and that helps.”
Kotkaniemi also helped out on the rejuvenated power play, picking up a goal and three assists over the last two games on the second group that features Gostisbehere at the point.
“A lot of goals,” was Kotkaniemi’s quick answer when asked what the 29-year-old defenseman adds to that unit. “You can tell he’s really calm at the blue line, he’s not in a rush. He makes great plays, he shoots the puck. I think that’s all we need.”
Teuvo Teravainen, who had a hat trick in the game, including two of that group’s power play goals, added: “It’s been really good start for him, so I’m sure he’s gonna help us a lot.”
All of that early success came without much time for Gostisbehere to acclimate to his new team and a system that is unique to others around the league.
“A lot of times they throw you into the fire like that,” Gostisbehere said Sunday. “Sometimes it’s a little easier, and fortunately for me, it’s gone pretty well the first few games.”
So far, so good.
“It’s what we needed, to have a quarterback back there — another one — to help facilitate that power play,” Brind’Amour said. “So he obviously knows what he’s doing.”
And maybe at the deadline, the Hurricanes did too.