The "second half" of the season began on Tuesday night as two of the hottest teams in the league squared off in Raleigh. The Hurricanes come out of the break following three straight wins, while the Canucks sit atop the Western Conference, entering play with 71 points. After a tightly contested game the last time they met in Vancouver, this had all the makings of a playoff-like scrap.
With Andrei Svechnikov not quite ready to go, the Canes rolled the same lineup from their win over Arizona before the break. Pyotr Kochetkov was in the net for his first start since leaving the team's win over the Ducks early with a concussion. For Vancouver, they rolled with their All-Star goalie, Thatcher Demko. Former Hurricane Elias Lindholm made his Canucks debut after being acquired from the Flames right before the pause.
Against a lethal offense like the Canucks, putting yourself on the penalty kill early isn't a sound game plan. Nevertheless, Sebastian Aho was guilty of an early trip against Elias Pettersson to put the Canucks on the man advantage. Clearly, the Canes knew something we didn't because they got on the board first. Teuvo Teravainen does the lion's share of the work leading up to the chance, but Jordan Martinook scored the first goal out of the break with a backhander that surprised Thatcher Demko just 4:25 into the game.
The Canucks nearly wiped that goal off the board immediately, but Conor Garland's chance rang the crossbar as the Canes killed it off. After that, the majority of play was in the Canes' defensive end. Pyotr Kochetkov was up to the task, making some huge stops, including one on Dakota Joshua alone at the front of the net, to keep it 1-0. A late-period penalty by Jack Drury would allow the Canucks to get on the board. Elias Lindholm got his stick on a shot by Quinn Hughes that was going several feet wide of the net. Lindholm's perfect tip beat Kochetkov to tie the game, where it would stay going into the intermission.
As the second period played out, there was a quiet shift in momentum back to the Hurricanes. Noah Juulsen saved a goal by blocking Dmitry Orlov's offering with an open net. Stefan Noesen blocked a shot without his stick as the Canucks began to swarm. The Canes finally earned their first power play of the night midway through the period, but it yielded very little. Another late-period penalty would get the Cauncks back on the power play. It took them 29 seconds to strike as Elias Lindholm and Quinn Hughes connected again. Lindholm got his stick on another shot, redirecting it past Pyotr Kochetkov with 3:31 left.
It looked like Vancouver was going to take their lead into the third period, but a too-many-men call against their bench gave the Canes some late life. After a subpar first power play, Sebastian Aho wired a shot from the left dot over the glove of Thatcher Demko 22 seconds into the infraction to knot the game once again. It looked like Demko got a decent look at it, highlighting just how wicked of a shot it was. This late goal gave the Canes some hope going into the final period.
Unfortunately for the Caniacs, this game ended on a sour note. In a turn of events eerily similar to their loss in Vancouver in December, the game-winner would come early in the third period on a weird play. Tyler Myers rimmed the puck into the zone along the boards, and it took a funny bounce off a stanchion. Pyotr Kochetkov came out to play the puck and was very slow to get back into position when it popped out to the front of the net. JT Miller pounced on the loose puck as he put the Canucks back ahead 4:00 into the frame.
The Canes refused to go down without a fight. They had some excellent shifts down the stretch but couldn't find the tying tally. Jesperi Kotkaniemi came very close, nearly burying a slick feed from Martin Necas through three Canucks. In the end, the Canucks survived the late push, taking a 3-2 win to snap the Canes' win streak.
This was one of those games you throw your hands up at because, while I thought the Canes came out of the gate slowly, they picked it up and put in a solid effort against the best team in the West. It boils down to one bad bounce that was played a little too loosely, which can't happen with a team of this caliber on the other side. I thought Pyotr Kochetkov was decent outside of that moment. The two tip goals were bad breaks that he couldn't control.
The early stages of the game were plagued by sloppy play with the puck, but it got cleaned up a little as the game went on. Sebastian Aho picked up where he left off before the break. Jordan Martinook continues to put up solid numbers in 2024. Jesperi Kotkaniemi had a strong game. His line had a long shift in the third period that hemmed the Canucks in their zone for a long time. I don't think the Canes played a bad game by any stretch of the imagination. They just didn't play well enough for 60 minutes to get the job done.
Life after the break doesn't get any easier for the Hurricanes. Their next game on Thursday night is against the Colorado Avalanche, who seem to have this team's number lately. They allowed six goals to the Avalanche when they met early in the year. They'll finish their first week back with the Devils on Saturday, who they beat right before the break.