Thomas Greiss was in-goal. Not Marc-André Fleury. Fresh off a near-perfect performance Friday night in Pittsburgh, the Carolina Hurricanes had reason for confidence. Raleigh’s PNC Arena was fuller than it has been. 16,225 turned out to watch the second game of the home and home series with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and to support their team. The energy was high and the ‘Canes had momentum.
The “big mo” seemed intent on staying with Carolina, as they scored 3:39 into the first period. It was Justin Faulk on the power play. Started by great, confident puck handling by Victor Rask, Faulk flamed a one-timer by Penguins backup goalie Thomas Greiss. It was the third Hurricanes power play goal in four attempts, going back to Friday night’s contest in Pittsburgh.
Things were going the Hurricanes’ way. That was soon to change.
Both the joy for the fans and the lead were short-lived as 17 seconds later Chris Kunitz bested Anton Khudobin to tie the game 1-1. And only a couple of minutes later, another defensive breakdown by the Hurricanes led to a relatively easy goal by Robert Bortuzzo. One of the keys to the game presented by the Hurricanes television tandem of John Forslund and Tripp Tracy was getting the defense involved in the offense. Who knew that it would be a Penguins defenseman, Bortuzzo to implement that key?
The go-ahead goal by Bortuzzo stopped the momentum that previously belonged to Carolina, and planted itself squarely on the shoulders of Thomas Greiss. The backup goalie for the Penguins had that little something extra that he would need to play with abandon and remind the Pittsburgh coaching staff that he is not to be forgotten.
On a side note, one of the most exciting moments of the game came when Nathan Gerbe made a huge hit on Simon Despres, and Jayson Megna immediately pounced on Gerbe. He quickly found out that the 5 foot five fireball is not easily dismissed, as Gerbe took him down hard to the ice before the referees broke them apart.
— Carolina Hurricanes (@Canes) November 30, 2014
The enormous hit and subsequent brawl reinforces what I write in just about every article about the ‘Canes. Nathan Gerbe is 100% all the time. There is no bigger heart on the ice.
Summing up the first period
It was hard not to wonder if Cam Ward would have stopped the two goals that Khudobin let in. Obviously Ward can’t start every game. Riding him too hard could have contributed to his challenges with injuries over the past few seasons. My colleague with The Hockey Writers, Jonathan Gardner looks at that idea here.
But Khudobin – while being hung out to dry at least on the second goal due to a defensive misstep – looked seriously shaky on the two Penguins goals in the first period. To his defense, he had not seen action in two weeks. Rhythm is essential to quality goaltending. Once Khudobin found his rhythm, he played a fantastic game.
Thomas Greiss appeared to be growing in confidence as the game progressed
Pittsburgh had :47 left on a late first period power play to start the second period. Carolina killed it off and the teams battled back and forth for the next five or so minutes. Evgeni Malkin was shown the way to the penalty box. The ‘Canes ensuing power play was voracious, but came up empty. Greiss was getting further and further into “the zone.” Playing with the lead certainly helped.
At 11:21 he made a huge save on a shot in front of the net by Eric Staal. Jiri Tlusty fed Staal perfectly, but Greiss was spot-on with the save.
At 11:37 the PNC Arena erupted as Sidney Crosby received a penalty for hooking, and another Hurricanes opportunity on the power play ensued. Once again Thomas Greiss was an impenetrable wall, and the ‘Canes came up empty. The confidence-shaking goal that Carolina desperately needed was proving elusive.
To the Hurricanes’ credit, they were playing hard for the second night in a row. Anton Khudobin appeared to have put the two-goal first period behind him and fought off several difficult shots by the Penguins.
Blake Comeau received a two-minute and OT for boarding and yet another Hurricanes power play was on. The man advantage vanished quickly as the ‘Canes Elias Lindholm was penalized for slashing. The period ended with Khudobin making a key save.
Carolina evened up the shots on goal differential which was 14-10 in favor of Pittsburgh at the end of the first period. They pulled to within one to close the gap to 25-25 Pens. It was still anybody’s game at this point, with the Hurricanes not out of it by any means. If only they could find a way to solve Thomas Greiss.
The Penguins would start the third as they did the second, with a man advantage
Carolina was able to kill the penalty, and the period progressed much as did the second, with both teams taking shots and both goalies doing their jobs extremely well. Throughout the game, the Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin showed why he is highly regarded as one of the NHL’s best centers. As signs of fatigue began to emerge for both teams – each on their third game in four nights – Malkin continued to look strong and in control.
At 15:47 Christian Ehrhoff made it 3-1 Penguins. Yet another defenseman scoring for the Penguins, as Ehrhoff knocked in his own rebound. With 11.7 seconds left Eric Staal finally solved Thomas Greiss on the games last power play, but it was too little too late as the Penguins emerged victorious, 3 to 2.
The game was fun to watch and frustrating at the same time
Thomas Greiss played like a starter rather than a backup goalie. Hats off to him. Alexander Semin had another game without a shot on goal, and one has to wonder if he is going to break out of his drought anytime soon. There was a big crowd on hand, but as the night wore on it was clear that not everyone in attendance was a Carolina Hurricanes fan:
@NHLCanes tonights game felt more like an away game than home! We were overruled by PEN fans and man, were they annoying!
— Brittney Cameron (@brit_cameron) November 30, 2014
With November winding up at 7-7-1 for the ‘Canes, Coach Bill Peters can feel a lot better about his team than he did at October’s end. Here’s hoping the ‘Canes can start December off on a positive note Tuesday night. After all, it’s only the Western Conference’s Central Division leading Nashville Predators coming to town. Piece of cake, right?
Mark lives in the Raleigh, NC area and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.