After what could only be described as an embarrassing loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday night, the Carolina Hurricanes needed to reach down and find some magic to finish their five-game homestand. Riding consecutive wins after a nine-game losing streak, the Columbus Blue Jackets tried to keep their momentum going in front of a loud Sunday crowd in Raleigh.
In a shocking move following Friday’s events, the lineup remained the same for the Hurricanes, minus their starter in the net. Pyotr Kochetkov was tasked with keeping the Blue Jackets at bay, making his first appearance since his relief effort against Edmonton. Elvis Merzlikins would be in the building for Columbus, coming off a phenomenal start in the Jackets’ 2-1 win over New Jersey on Friday.
With the odd 5 p.m. start time, neither side came out of the gates firing in the first few minutes. Coming out of the first commercial break, the action was non-stop. Both teams flew up and down the ice, looking for chances. Neither goalie was allowing anything past them. The Canes’ defensemen were jumping into the play from every angle. Shots were flying. Bodies were being peppered with pucks. The Hurricanes earned a late power play, but nothing made its way into the net as we entered the intermission in a stalemate despite an 18-8 advantage in shots for the Canes.
The pace lessened in the second period, but the phenomenal goaltending continued. Elvis Merzlikins was knocking away initial shots and rebounds. Pyotr Kochetkov was fighting through traffic and making diving poke checks to prevent chances.
It wasn’t until the third period when all of the bounces started going Columbus’ way. Kirill Marchenko broke the ice 13 seconds into the period as his shot hit Brady Skjei’s stick and beat Pyotr Kochetkov over his shoulder. A few minutes later, Skjei’s failed clearing attempt made its way to Johnny Gaudreau, who got a friendly bounce off Skjei’s back and into the net to put Columbus up 2-0 before the first commercial break and stun the Caniacs at PNC Arena.
Sensing a change was needed, Rod Brind’Amour made one small tweak to his lines, swapping Teuvo Teravianen and Andrei Svechnikov. It almost immediately paid off when Teravainen found Martin Necas in the slot, but Elvis Merzlikins made a phenomenal save to stop him. Shortly after, that line found some life. Jesperi Kotkaniemi managed to find some space in the slot, received a pass from Teravainen, and threw it off the bar and in to get the Hurricanes on the board one second past the midway point in the period.
A potential turning point in the game came with the Hurricanes’ second power play right after their goal. The first unit was on the ice for nearly the entire two minutes, but there was a chance near the end of it that saw Justin Danforth get into the zone short-handed against Pyotr Kochetkov. A goal there likely serves as the backbreaker. Instead, Kochetkov fends it off with his glove.
While the save didn’t result in an immediate cash-in, it would come a few minutes later. The Canes finally got a good bounce to go their way. Andrei Svechnikov’s shot hit a defender and trickled to Brady Skjei, who’d jumped down into the play. He got just enough of the puck on his backhand to slide it under the pads of Elvis Merzlikins to tie the game with less than four minutes left.
It looked like the game was heading to overtime, but we’ve learned never to assume with the Hurricanes. After Seth Jarvis’ dump attempt caught Andrei Svechnikov up high, he quickly recovered as Sebastian Aho brought the puck in. Without looking at him, Aho put it perfectly on Svechknikov’s stick, and he wired it into the back of the net 1:14 after the tying goal to put the Canes ahead. The Canes did a good job of keeping Elvis Merzlikins on the ice in the final minutes as they wore the clock down to complete the homestand with a 3-2 win.
We’ve seen some great hockey and some not-so-great hockey during this stretch. The wins over Edmonton and Pittsburgh were good, but the losses to Philadelphia and Tampa were bad for very different reasons. Not only was it important for the Hurricanes to finish the homestand strongly, they needed to make sure they did it in regulation, especially against a division opponent. Getting two points to finish with a 3-2-0 record felt like a win in itself.
Pyotr Kochetkov stepped up and put the team on his back for 60 minutes. He didn’t face a heavy workload like Elvis Merzlikins, but he faced some quality chances. The two goals he allowed were tough bounces that he couldn’t react to. It didn’t faze him, and he was huge down the stretch to allow the comeback to materialize.
The changes made by Rod Brind’Amour proved to be huge. Both affected lines scored goals in the final ten minutes. None of them was bigger than Andrei Svechnikov’s goal. The way his teammates celebrated for a little longer than normal showed how much they wanted to see him get on the board. It also helped that it was the go-ahead goal. He played a great game, picking up two points and breaking his seven-game penalty streak by staying out of the box in this one. In fact, the entire team stayed out of the box, never allowing Columbus a chance on the power play.
While the homestand might be over, hockey at PNC Arena will return soon. The Hurricanes will take a one-game trip up north to face the Flyers on Tuesday but will be back in Raleigh for two more, facing the Islanders and Sabres on Thursday and Saturday. After that, we’re back on the road for a while, touring western Canada, Ottawa, and Detroit through mid-December.