If there was anything the Hurricanes were long overdue for, it was an ugly win. During this brutal 20-game stretch, the Canes have lost in just about every way imaginable and it didn't matter how good or bad they played. They were plenty of games where the Canes were just awful and deserved to lose (including last night's stinker against the Flyers), but there were also a lot of games where the Canes played well but either couldn't score or received terrible goaltending, which put them behind. Nothing was going right for this team during that period and it seemed like the Canes were stuck in a rut that would last for the rest of the season. Until last night, that is.
Their 3-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning was a nice change from the status quo of the last month or and it was good to see the team get a win even though they arguably didn't "deserve" it. Carolina ended up getting outshot 37-28 (31-21 at even strength) and looked like the better team for a good portion of this contest. Part of the reason for this was because the Canes had a three-goal lead after the first intermission and were content with sitting back, but the Lightning definitely gave the Canes a lot of trouble tonight and Dan Ellis had to come up big plenty of times to preserve the victory for Carolina. It was basically what you would consider an "ugly win" by most standards since the Canes werea ble to get two points despite not playing their best hockey.
Carolina hasn't played their best hockey in about a month, so what made this game so different? Goaltending and a few lucky bounces. As I previously noted, Ellis gave the Hurricanes a terrific performance in goal tonight with 35 saves, their first line produced goals on three of the seven even strength shots they produced and they also got lucky a few times with some of Tampa Bay's chances going off the post or being cleared away at the last minute. In other words, basically everything that didn't go right for Carolina over the last month or so.
Had the Canes gotten a few more ugly wins like this under their belt earlier in the season then we might be singing a different tune right now regarding their playoff chances, but there is nothing that can be done about that now and all this win impacts is where they select in the draft. Adding to that, two Carolina players also got injured tonight, so spirits aren't as high as they normally are in Raleigh after a victory. Only one week of regular season play left..let's hope the Hurricanes can continue to close things out on a positive note.
Carolina Hurricanes at Tampa Bay Lightning
Here's why this was such an ugly game. Carolina had a three goal cushion after the first period so naturally, you would expect them to ease off the gas pedal for the final forty minutes. They sort of did that in the second period since the Lightning were able to score on the powerplay to make it only a two goal game. Still, things were pretty even during that frame and the Canes were able to keep the Lightning in check during five-on-five play. That all changed in the third period. The Hurricanes weren't able to sustain any pressure during that frame and the Lightning had no trouble generating offense. They were able to make it a 3-2 game and came very close to tying it on multiple occasions. Dan Ellis and some timely clears by the defense were the reason why the Lightning didn't' end up getting any points out this game and the Canes were pretty fortunate to hang on.
You can chalk this one up to score effects since the Hurricanes were able to get an early lead and sat back after that, but it's worth mentioning that this was only a one-goal game for the majority of the third period and the Canes barely generated any offense then. I think playing with a lead had a factor, but the team just looked exhausted by then, They didn't have their legs, were sloppy with the puck and the Lightning were able to create numerous odd-man rushes and carve their way through the Hurricanes defense as a result. They were basically running on fumes for the entire third period, which isn't terribly surprising since it was a back-to-back on the road and their third game in four nights.
If Carolina was still alive in the playoff race, then this would be one of those games where you would be happy with a winning result no matter what. However, since the team is now eliminated from playoff contention, ugly wins don't feel as good as they should and I'm left wishing that the team could have played better while trying to make an impression for next year. Tim Gleason getting injured on a dirty crosscheck late in the game from BJ Crombeen didn't help matters either. A win is a win, though.
Hurricanes Individual Scoring Chances
Best EV Forward: Jiri Tlusty +3
Worst EV Forward: Chad LaRose -7
Best EV Defensemen: Jamie McBain & Marc-Andre Bergeron +1
Worst EV Defenseman: Tim Gleason -6
Remember earlier in the season when the first line struck gold every time they shot the puck? We saw glimpses of that again last night as they generated three even strength goals, all of which coming in the first period. Tlusty ended up having the best night with two goals and avoiding most of the defensive damage that the rest of the line took but all three had relatively good games in terms of scoring chances. They were on the ice for a ton of Tampa Bay shot attempts but not many of them got on net or were of particularly good quality. That adds up to a fine night at the office for Carolina's top trio.
The rest of the forwards didn't have very good games unfortunately, as nobody outside of the first line had a positive even strength scoring chance differential. The second line was pretty quiet and Jordan Staal had a very rough night. Tampa Bay's defense didn't have much of a problem containing him at even strength and he got lit up on the penalty kill. As rough of a night it was for Jordan's line, it didn't compare to the performance of the third line who couldn't get anything going at even strength. They were the ones who had the defensive breakdown off a faceoff in their own zone which led to Martin St. Louis' goal and who gave up six scoring chances to the Lightning. Chad LaRose was the one who took the bulk of the damage while playing on other lines as he had one of his poorest showings of the season.
The Canes first defense pairing of Tim Gleason & Justin Faulk were also shelled in the third period, surrendering four even strength scoring chances to the Lightning and they didn't make up for it on offense either. Corvo & Harrison also had a fairly rough game, albeit slightly better from their disastrous performance last night and the protected third pairing of McBain & Bergeron were the only duo to come out in the black at even strength. When this happens, it's usually a sign that the entire defense played poorly and I think that's fair to say. However, they did a better job in the transition game and not allowing Tampa Bay to create much offense on the rush, or at least they did for the first two periods. Tampa opened the floodgates in the third and the defense seemed to let the Lightning do whatever they wanted during that frame.
Lightning Individual Scoring Chances
|26||Martin St. Louis||15:17||5||4||2:21||4||0||3:04||0||2|
Best EV Forward: Vincent Lecavalier +4
Worst EV Forwards: Alex Killorn & Tom Pyatt EVEN
Best EV Defenseman: Eric Brewer +4
Worst EV Defensemen: Sami Salo, Radko Gudas & Victor Hedman +1
Pierre-Cedric Lebrie was the only Tampa Bay player not to have a shot on goal last night. On top of that, no Tampa Bay player had a negative scoring chance or shot attempt differential during even strength play last night, which is pretty astounding when you consider how badly they've been getting outshot this season. The eight scoring chances they recorded in the third period helped that cause and the Lightning got some decent contributions from their top-six. Levacalier's line generated six even strength scoring chances and Stamkos created five of them. The only line the Hurricanes were able to contain well was the Killorn-Pyatt-Panik line, which has given Carolina a lot of fits this year, or at least they were able to in terms of scoring chances. This line still generated a fair amount of shots and had a few times where they used their speed to take advantage of some of Carolina's slower defensemen.
Unfortunately for the Bolts, they experienced some of the terrible luck that Carolina has gone through for most of their better players had back-breaking mistakes that resulted in goals. Steven Stamkos was stripped of the puck by Eric Staal, which allowed him to set up a bang-bang play in front of the net for the first goal. The second goal bounced off Victor Hedman's skate and the third goal only happened because Ryan Malone couldn't clear the puck after retrieving it at the side of the net. None of these players had particularly awful games, but these mistakes ended up hurting the team.
Judging by tonight's game, it doesn't look like Tampa coach Jon Cooper puts a lot of emphasis on machups. He didn't really assign any specific shutdown line or defense pairing against any of the Staal lines and seemed content with regularly sending out his fourth line against Eric Staal's line. I think Nate Thompson is an underrated defensive center, but it's a little interesting that Cooper trusted this line with some tough minutes when you look at his linemates. Maybe Crombeen & Labrie are better defensively than I give them credit for?
Either way, Tampa Bay getting the last change didn't matter a whole lot since there weren't many specific matchups and the top-nine saw a good mix of everyone throughout most of the game. This has advantages and drawbacks for the Canes. On one hand, it's good that the first line was out there against Tampa's fourth line for 40% of their minutes. However, the third line constantly getting stuck on the ice against Stamkos & company is very dangerous and it nearly came back to haunt Carolina a few times during the third period.
Despite the potential danger, the third line actually didn't get crushed by Stamkos. Instead, they got walloped by Lecavalier's line and took quite a bit of damage from Tampa Bay's fourth line too. Most of this damage occurred during the third period while the Canes were exhausted and they seemed to be the ones taking the bulk of the damage. Same can be said for Tim Gleason & Justin Faulk, who were also beaten down by the same Tampa Bay lines. They actually did a fairly good job at holding Stamkos' line in check at even strength but Lecavalier's line ran rampant on them. Eric Staal's line thankfully made up for some of this damage by outchancing Tampa Bay's top-six and first defense pairing to give the Hurricanes some life.
Also, remember how I said the Killorn-Pyatt-Panik line can expose some of Carolina's slower defensemen? Take a look at which pairing got outchanced when those two were on the ice.
A better game for Carolina in terms of their ability to gain the zone with control of the puck even if they weren't able to create much offense out of it. Things didn't improve much the times when they dumped the puck in either as they created only 4 shot attempts on their 24 uncontrolled entries during 5v5 play. The only players who were creating offense off their zone entries were Patrick Dwyer & Jordan Staal, who had 10 combined entries. The rest of the team couldn't seem to generate much offense even when they carried the puck in and many of the team's better neutral zone players resorted to simply getting it deep. Skinner & Tlusty in particular did this a lot.
Tampa Bay gained the blue line with control on the same percentage of their entries as the Hurricanes. The difference was that they had the puck more often and created a lot more offense on the rush. Tampa Bay also had a fairly balanced attack going with each line having a lot of entries and at least four of them coming with control of the puck. Even Tampa Bay's grinders like Crombeen, Thompson & Pyatt were able to gain the zone with control regularly and create offense out of it.
So yeah..this was far from Carolina's best performance and they still managed to win. The Hockey Gods giveth and they taketh away.
|1||CAR||19:44||Semin – GOAL||12||19||28||44||77||31||91||16||26||6||77||39||5v5|
|1||CAR||1:15||Tlusty – GOAL||12||19||28||44||77||31||4||42||12||2||25||39||5v5|
|2||TB||9:53||Stamkos – GOAL||11||39||6||27||31||4||91||16||26||6||39||4v5|
|3||TB||17:22||St. Louis – GOAL||20||39||59||44||77||31||4||26||12||3||75||39||5v5|