It was a family affair at PNC Arena on Wednesday night as the Canes welcomed the Florida Panthers for their second preseason game in as many nights. The story coming into the game was the Battle of the Brind’Amours as Carolina Head Coach Rod Brind’Amour was set to face his son Skylar, a member of the Panthers’ training camp roster. It did lead to a nice pregame moment for the family.
As for the team on the ice, outside of seven players that skated last night, it was a largely new group of Hurricanes. Several regulars made their preseason debuts tonight, including the team’s Top 4 on defense, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Stefan Noesen, and Antti Raanta, getting the start between the pipes. Tonight also saw the debuts of Michael Bunting and Brandon Lemieux, two of the team’s signings this offseason.
Technically, the Canes opened the scoring on the power play. The only problem is that the puck went past Antti Raanta. As Gerry Mayhew made a move to the front of the net, Brett Pesce pushed the puck off his stick, but it ended up in the Canes’ net, giving Florida a 1-0 lead late in the first period.
The Mayhew goal would be the lone marker of the first two periods. Once the third period began, the Hurricanes ramped up the offense. After drawing an early power play, a beautiful passing play ended with Stefan Noesen getting an easy tap-in to beat Spencer Knight, who’d looked phenomenal through two periods for the Panthers. Just over two and a half minutes later, Ryan Suzuki found a little daylight over Knight’s shoulder, snapping home his first of the preseason to give the Canes their first lead of the night.
The sequence of the night was a 200-foot play by Michael Bunting. Shortly after Suzuki’s goal, Bunting was the lone player back to defend a 3-on-1. Not only did he defend it perfectly, he took the puck the other way on a 4-on-1 for the Canes and set up Brady Skjei to make it 3-1. I know it’s the preseason, but if this is what we can expect from Bunting this season, we should be in for a fun time. Bunting was rewarded at the end of the night with an empty-net goal, securing a 4-1 victory for the Hurricanes with a two-point night.
Persistence paid off for the Canes tonight. They had plenty of chances against Spencer Knight in the first 40 minutes that didn’t find the net, but it all seemed to click at the beginning of the third period. We got exactly what we expected from the returning Hurricanes that played tonight. Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce played well in the defensive end. Brett Burns and Brady Skjei had their chances on offense, the latter of whom scored a goal. Jesperi Kotkaniemi had a minor scare with a puck getting him in the visor, but he shook it off and had a two-assist night playing with Stefan Noesen, who was a recipient of a Kotkaniemi assist. Antti Raanta was strong in the net, allowing one goal on nine shots in just over a period and a half.
The young guys carried the torch for the Canes tonight. Ryan Suzuki netted the game-winning goal. Jamieson Rees didn’t pick up any points but had plenty of high-quality chances. I gushed about Felix Unger Sorum after Tuesday’s win, and he had another outstanding game, recording a sick secondary assist on Noesen’s goal. Yaniv Perets stopped all six shots he faced in his preseason debut, earning the win as the goalie of record.
Ultimately, the star of the night was Michael Bunting. While he didn’t earn top honors after the game, instead being named the 2nd star behind Ryan Suzuki, there was much to love about his game. I had a hunch that he’d develop into a fan favorite, and tonight’s introduction is the first stepping stone.
The next stop for the Canes will be Florida, where they’ll split their roster into two teams to face both the Lightning and Panthers on Friday night. One squad will be at FLA Live Arena for a rematch with the Panthers at 6 p.m., while the other group will start an hour later at Amalie Arena against the Bolts. The preseason will conclude next Thursday and Friday with a home-and-home with the Nashville Predators.