Riding a big win in Nashville less than 24 hours before, the Carolina Hurricanes returned home to complete a back-to-back against the Montreal Canadiens. Sebastian Aho recorded four points in Nashville, and the power play struck three times in a 5-2 win over the Predators. The history with the Canadiens is deep and rich, especially of late. The banter online is almost as tough as the action on the ice.
After a successful night in Nashville, the Hurricanes deployed the same lines. The only difference was in the net, as Antti Raanta started for the first time since his rough start against the Predators before Christmas. Montreal countered with Cayden Primeau as the Habs were playing in their first game after Christmas.
With a goalie in the net fighting his confidence, the best thing the Canes could've done was score an early goal. That's exactly what they did. The trio of Andrei Svechnikov, Sebastian Aho, and Brent Burns kept their hot streaks going. Burns' shot from the point was tipped by Svechnikov to put the Canes ahead 1:35 into the contest. The Canes double-dipped as Jesper Fast buried his first goal in 17 games during a partial line change. Burns and Aho factored in again as Burns' pass to Aho was tipped over to Fast for an easy tap-in. It looked like the Canes were in control early.
Unfortunately, the good times came to a quick end as Mitchell Stephens picked up a loose puck after Brett Pesce blocked the initial chance to beat Antti Raanta 71 seconds after the Canes took a 2-0 lead. It looked for a second like Jack Drury had re-established the two-goal lead by redirecting a pass from Jesper Fast, but Montreal successfully challenged the play for goalie interference. Andrei Svechnikov would be called for a late offensive-zone penalty, allowing Mike Matheson to score in the final seconds of the period on a wrap-around to help Montreal send the game into the intermission tied. It was a gut punch that took the energy out of PNC Arena.
The fourth line set the tone in the second period. Jack Drury and Stefan Noesen put on a furious forecheck to take the puck away. Noesen found Jesper Fast handing out alone in the slot, and he drilled it past Cayden Primeau to put the Canes back in front less than 90 seconds into the frame. The Canadiens got the better of the play for most of the period, but Antti Raanta was there to deny them. Raanta stopped all 12 shots he faced in the second, allowing the Canes to remain ahead going into the third period.
The one-goal lead quickly disappeared once the puck dropped in the third. After Brady Skjei fanned on a chance, Josh Anderson managed to get his breakaway opportunity to sneak through Antti Raanta's pads to tie the game 25 seconds into the period. It didn't help that the Canes took two penalties in quick succession, giving Montreal a chance to take the lead twice early in the period. The kill stepped up and got the job done, keeping the game tied.
The penalty kills helped catalyze what eventually turned into a win. Jack Drury was denied on a breakaway and felt he should've drawn a penalty call. None was provided, but as the saying goes, "the puck don't lie." On the ensuing faceoff, Brett Pesce found Andrei Svechnikov for a one-timer that beat Cayden Primeau to put the Canes ahead with just over six minutes left. The Canadiens took a penalty with less than a minute left, forcing them to kill a penalty while needing to tie the game. They pulled Primeau, and Svechnikov completed the hat trick by burying the puck into the empty net from the defensive zone. The Canes would ice the rest of the clock, completing the back-to-back with a 5-3 win.
While it was far from a perfect game for the Hurricanes, their big guys stepped up for the second night in a row. Obviously, Andrei Svechnikov's third regular-season hat trick is big. He has four goals in two games as he continues to find the scoring touch that makes him a lethal sniper. Sebastian Aho recorded another four-point night, assisting on four of the five goals. Brent Burns added three helpers.
The fourth line also kept up its incredible season. Jesper Fast, playing his second game with Stefan Noesen and Jack Drury, scored twice to break a long drought. Drury had another goal taken off the board, but he picked up an assist. Noesen assisted on a goal and laid a huge hit on Juraj Slafkovsky late in the game.
All of this helped to earn Antti Raanta a win. It wasn't an earth-shattering performance from Raanta, but the Canes didn't need it to be. They needed him to make big saves in big moments, and he did that, especially in the second period. The defense made life easy for him in the third period as they fought to break the 3-3 tie.
The Hurricanes close out 2023 in Toronto on Saturday night to begin a three-game road trip with stops at Madison Square Garden and in Washington D.C. Once the Hurricanes finish this quick trip, they'll only have one more road game for the rest of January, as the team plays eight of their next nine games at PNC Arena before the All-Star Break.