Carolina Hurricanes: Streak over, face critical game against Sabres

TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 10:Justin Williams #14 of the Carolina Hurricanes reacts to giving up a goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the third period at Amalie Arena on January 10, 2019 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)
TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 10:Justin Williams #14 of the Carolina Hurricanes reacts to giving up a goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the third period at Amalie Arena on January 10, 2019 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images) /
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Last night the Tampa Bay Lightning ended the Carolina Hurricanes’ winning streak in the most cruel fashion, letting the Canes think they were in with a chance of two points before a third period assault stole the win. We look back at a tough-to-take loss but cast our eyes ahead to tonight’s must-win game against Jeff Skinner’s Buffalo Sabres.

Well, that was a tough one to swallow. For so much of last night’s game, the Carolina Hurricanes were hanging with the best team in the NHL, and we looked good for a huge win. Petr Mrazek had himself another excellent night with a .931% save percentage, but that Lightning defense is tough to crack, and one goal was never going to be enough against a free-scoring team like the Bolts.

Captain Justin Williams scored his 300th career goal, assisted by Trevor van Riemsdyk and Dougie Hamilton, who extended his point streak to five games. We are beginning to see the best of Hamilton – it may be a dangerous tactic to trade him, as he is clearly capable of providing offense when fully healthy.

Andrei Svechnikov took a couple of unfortunate penalties; we have to remember that he’s still learning the ropes at the tender age of 18, but he has ten minor penalties and one point over his last ten games, and the Lightning scored from the second of those power plays last night to level the game with just shy of 8 minutes left in the third period. Without that penalty, it’s possible that the game turns out differently, and he definitely needs to work on his stick game:

109. Final. 3. 23. 1

That being said, Rod Brind’Amour’s boys can take huge heart from their performance , and must now take that heart and confidence into tonight’s massive home encounter with the Buffalo Sabres. They went up against the NHL’s very best, and nearly pulled off an unexpected win. Tonight is a must-win game, as the Sabres lie seven points ahead of the Canes in the playoff race. A five point gap is close; a nine point gap is a chasm. Such are the fine margins at this stage of an NHL season. We will learn a lot about this team tonight.

Those Sabres bring with them an old friend: Jeff Skinner. He has been in the form of his life with his new team, scoring 29 goals already this season and looking like the Jeff Skinner of old alongside Jack Eichel. This will be his first visit back to PNC Arena since Canes fans saw him depart, and I am sure he will be given a warm welcome by Caniacs.

One guy who likely won’t be welcomed by Canes fans is Sabres superstar, Jack Eichel. He remains on IR, and is doubtful for tonight’s matchup. It wouldn’t surprise me if he was a late addition to their lineup, with this being such an important game in the playoff race. Without Eichel, the Sabres’ offense is limited to Skinner, Sam Reinhart, and the defensive duo of Rasmus Ristolainen and Rasmus Dahlin. If the Canes can pay close attention to those four, they will surely come away with a W.

dark. Next. Mid-season report cards for the Canes' forwards

With Curtis McElhinney looking to out-do Petr Mrazek in the Canes’ net tonight, we foresee yet more solid goaltending and an offensive outburst to secure the win for the Carolina Hurricanes.

Prediction: Sabres 3-5 Hurricanes