Don’t call it a comeback, the Carolina Hurricanes have been doing it for years. Well, this year and last, to be precise. The “bunch of jerks” returned to annoy critics Thursday when they beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 in a shootout and gave the fans the first storm surge of the 2019-20 season. But after their most recent win, Saturday against the Washington Capitals, this young Hurricanes squad has established that last season was no fluke, and third-period outbreaks are a part of its identity.
Built on a reputation of scrappy underdogs who just won’t quit, the Hurricanes have done a good job early of keeping their momentum going over the summer. It’s only been two games, but they’ve already demonstrated the same kind of power and resilience that carried them to the Eastern Conference Final last season.
The goaltending duo of Petr Mrazek and James Reimer has been solid, the new defensive core is beginning to mesh, and we’ve also seen the Hurricanes flex its offensive depth up front. But most notably, their ability to cling onto life deep into hockey games has earned them two early come-from-behind wins.
Capping Off a Win Against the Capitals
Saturday night was a big game for Hurricanes if you can call the second game of the season a tone-setter. But Carolina and the Capitals have developed quite a rivalry in 2019. Their back-and-forth playoff series last season went all the way to Game 7 double-overtime, where the Hurricanes clutched out the win on a goal from Brock McGinn. After the chippy preseason game between the two clubs just one week ago, both teams had something to prove in their first true meeting of the season.
Down two goals in the third period, the Hurricanes fought back to tie it on goals by Erik Haula and Jaccob Slavin. The clock ticked down, and the game went to overtime, where new free agent signing Jake Gardiner won it at 4:04 on a wrist shot snipe.
The Hurricanes’ ability to hang on to close games isn’t anything new. In last season’s playoff battle against the Capitals, they were down in the series 2-0, and 3-2, putting them on the brink of an early elimination. In Game 7, the Hurricanes never even had a lead. But they managed to turn the tides and claw their way back to win the series. That same reputation has carried into the early parts of this season, which is a promising sign for the future of this young group.
Hurricanes are a Third-Period Team
Every team has stretches in a game where they sit back or get overwhelmed by the opponent’s pressure, but the Hurricanes are the kind of group that doesn’t quit when things get rough, and they often bring out their best in third periods. Last season, they scored 15 more goals in the third period of games (85) than the first (70). But that late-game clutch factor was nowhere more evident than in the playoffs.
Carolina was able to sweep the New York Islanders in four straight games last postseason thanks to its overpowering ability to finish strong every game. They outscored the Islanders 6-1 in third periods and scored the game-winning goal in the third frame or later in three out of the four games. It was the same trend in Round 1 against the Capitals, where the Hurricanes outscored Washington 9-5 in period three.
Similarly to Saturday’s third-period comeback in Washington, Thursday’s home opener against Montreal brought an exciting win for the rowdy Hurricanes fans. Carolina took a 2-0 lead on goals by Lucas Wallmark and Martin Necas, but then surrendered three straight goals by the Canadiens, heading into the second intermission down 3-2. After regrouping, they came out in the third and dominated play, outshooting Montreal 19-7 and scoring the game-tying goal before Dougie Hamilton won it in the shootout.
The Hurricanes’ energy levels seem to be limitless, as the team is chock-full of young, speedy guys who play with a high intensity almost every shift. That competitiveness blends perfectly with the Rod Brind’Amour style of play, which is built on strong conditioning and mental toughness – two key elements the head coach trains his players in that draws consistency out of his team.
There’s Always Room to Improve
For all the talk of the Hurricanes’ resolve, we can’t ignore the way they crashed and burned in the Eastern Conference Final against the Boston Bruins. Swept away in four games, it was the only significant time where they couldn’t get a foothold. But Carolina still had flashes of brilliance that were blanketed by a hot goalie and a hungrier team.
There are takeaways, like there always should be. That style of play can be difficult to keep up for an entire season and a full playoff run. And you always have to accept that it’s easier to play with a lead than play from behind. It’s great to be noticeable for late-game heroics, but it would obviously be better to avoid falling behind at all.
The ‘Canes do have a knack for keeping games close – they only had three regular-season losses last season in which they were beaten by more than three goals. For a team that combines tough physical play with speed, youth and tenacity, they find a way to keep up that drive on a night-to-night basis. The trick for this team going forward will be learning to start games with the same gusto they bring out in third periods.
It’s only two games into the season, so there will be many more tests to come for Carolina. But early signs point to the Hurricanes being a top contender in the Metropolitan Division and there’s no reason to think they’ll slow down any time soon. The Hurricanes will play the Tampa Bay Lightning Sunday evening, where they’ll face their biggest challenge yet.