You know how it is. You’ve got the family with you and you’re headed into the arena seating area when you have a thought and tell them, “Go on ahead. I’m gonna grab some nachos.“ That healthiest of all arena food is calling your name, the hard chips with the thick melted cheese product globbed everywhere. It’s too much to resist.
While You’re Ordering Nachos
If you gave into that urge Friday night, you missed most of the action as the Carolina Hurricanes hosted the Edmonton Oilers. Within the first two and a half minutes, three of the games four goals were scored. Add missing most of the game’s action to the price you paid for tickets and parking, and those were some costly nachos.
While you were a line getting your nachos, newly acquired Nino Niederreiter blasted a shot past Oilers goaltender Mikko Koskinen just 37 seconds into the game. Then, 55 seconds later the Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl found teammate Zack Kassian who knocked the puck past Hurricanes goalie Curtis McElhinney to make it a 1-1 game.
By now you likely had your nachos order placed and were getting antsy because twice in a minute and a half there was very loud fan noise. Getting antsy was for naught, however, as you heard the home crowd erupt again. This time it was Lucas Wallmark of the Hurricanes after he slapped in a top-shelf blast past Koskinen, just 44 seconds later. The Hurricanes were up 2-1 and only 136 seconds had ticked off the game clock.
As the Hurricanes’ website recaps, the rest of the game was pretty much a snooze-fest. You had plenty of back and forth play to watch while you enjoyed those most costly of nachos. The Hurricanes scored an insurance goal in the third period when captain Justin Williams fed the puck to Sebastian Aho who found Niederreiter who scored his second of the night.
Niederreiter Trade Paying Huge Dividends
Victor who? This is likely what most Hurricanes fans are saying when they vaguely recall Victor Rask who was traded to the Minnesota Wild for Niederreiter. Remember what Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell said about Niederreiter when he made the trade? “We’re excited to welcome a proven goal-scorer and veteran presence in Nino Niederreiter, “said Waddell.
Proven and proving that he is a goal-scorer and then some. Niederreiter has played 12 games with the Hurricanes since the trade and has scored eight goals. That’s one less than he had scored all season (46 games) with the Wild. If Rask was a fan favorite breaking onto the team in 2014, Niederreiter is giving everyone “Rask amnesia.”
Not only has he replaced the underperforming center, but has meshed seamlessly with the team and is fast finding chemistry with his teammates. Hurricanes television color analyst Tripp Tracey told of card games on team flights with Aho and Niederreiter. This chemistry is important as it allows the “new guy” to play his game knowing he will be supported by his fellow Hurricanes completely.
McElhinney Will Steal Your Nachos
Ok, not really. But if you were zinging nacho chips at him there is a very good chance he’d knock every one of them out of the air. He is in a tremendous zone. Unfortunately for him, it is coming late in his career. Fortunately for him and the Hurricanes, it is coming at a point in his career when his veteran leadership is paying huge dividends for the Hurricanes.
Against the Oilers, he stopped 40 shots. In case you need reminding, Connor McDavid was in the mix of Oilers firing away at McElhinney. The heir apparent to Sidney Crosby’s “greatest player in the world” gloss was unable to abuse McElhinney at all, ending up with only four shots the entire game. This is also a testament to the Hurricanes’ defense which has been playing extremely well of late.
Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour told the media after the game, “We just battled and hung in there. Our goaltender was great tonight, and that was probably the difference in the game.” That difference earned him the first star on the night.
But those things pale in comparison to achieving the ultimate goal of making the playoffs. After the game McElhinney said, “I got the opportunity to be in a playoff atmosphere the last couple of years in Toronto, played some critical games down the stretch, and I don’t think there’s anything better…It’s awesome.”
Currently the Hurricanes have 66 points and are one point behind the Pittsburgh Penguins who have 67. The Penguins are currently in the second wild card slot. The Columbus Blue Jackets also have 67 points, and are currently third in the Metropolitan Division playoff slot.
The bottom line is that the Hurricanes have played themselves into contention. Since the New Year’s Eve they are 15-4-1 which is best in the NHL since that time. But they cannot rest on their laurels. Saturday night they face the Dallas Stars whose 63 points have them in the middle of playoff contention in the Western Conference.
The Hurricanes have been in similar situations in the recent past under head coach Bill Peters. But something seems different this season. Whether it’s Brind’Amour’s confidence or the play of McElhinney and goalie Petr Mrázek, or the scoring of Niederreiter, Teuvo Teräväinen and Aho, or the boost that Dougie Hamilton and Micheal Ferland have given the team, is hard to say.
The combination of all of the above along with the contributions that each player is making have fans believing that this season might be the one. It’s hard to imagine what cellys the team will roll out if they do make the playoffs and do win at home.
— Carolina Hurricanes (@Canes) February 16, 2019
Last night they showed that they are wining and having fun at the same time. And that means that waiting until intermission might be the best bet if you must have those nachos.
Mark lives in the Raleigh, NC area and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.