Hurricanes’ Resiliency Pays Off in Game 5 Comeback Win

Returning home in a tied 2-2 series, the Carolina Hurricanes approached Game 5 against the Nashville Predators with one major theme in mind – resilience. And resilient they were.

After an incomprehensible goaltender interference call robbed Jordan Staal of a game-tying goal in the second period, it was Staal himself who cemented the comeback and scored the overtime winner after two straight periods of referee-hounding at PNC Arena.

It was the third straight bout that carried into extra minutes for the Hurricanes, after two crushing defeats in double overtime in Games 3 and 4. With the sheer amount of hockey already played – the most of any series so far – the ‘Canes knew they’d have to continue to be tough and resilient coming into Game 5. But they were thrown even more obstacles with the goaltender interference debacle and the stinginess of the Predators’ defense.

The Highest-Stakes Period of the Season

The mood was sour in the building at the closing of the second period. Even when nothing was happening on the ice, Hurricanes fans at PNC Arena would rain down the boos at every blow of the whistle in protest of the surprising callback on Staal’s tying goal.

As the game went on and the clock was ticking down, it looked like the ‘Canes were going to be heading back to Nashville down 3-2. That would have only fueled head coach Rod Brind’Amour’s criticisms of the officiating throughout the series, having already voiced his displeasure after their Game 3 overtime loss. But when Martin Necas tied the game with seven minutes remaining in the third period, there was hope.

After scoring that phenomenal goal, the building finally came alive again. Necas had been laying low in the first few games of the series, but the 22-year-old finally showed up with his biggest clutch performance of his young career, scoring both of the Hurricanes’ regulation goals and earning himself first-star honors.

He also probably helped Brind’Amour avoid a fine for a second straight year. Had the Predators held on to that 2-1 lead, the goaltender interference drama would have been a massive talking point. Instead, the Hurricanes can put that in their rearview mirror and focus on closing out the series in Game 6.

As frustrated as the fans were, the Hurricanes did an incredible job of sticking with their game plan. It would have been easy to be lulled into the negativity. But instead, they grinded their way back into the game, putting them one victory shy of the second round. That’s now all five games that at least Brind’Amour has been proud of his team’s effort.

With Staal’s overtime goal, he now leads the Hurricanes in goals with four, and is tied for second in the NHL behind Nathan MacKinnon‘s six. The captain also leads the ‘Canes in points with five, all of which have come at even strength.

Slavin Spectacular in his Return

The Hurricanes’ back end was wearing down after playing so much hockey, so Jaccob Slavin’s return in Game 5 couldn’t have been more welcomed. Brind’Amour wasted no time easing him in either, as Slavin logged a game-high 26:08 time-on-ice (TOI).

Probably the biggest benefactor of Slavin’s return was his partner Dougie Hamilton. Hamilton has had an up-and-down season, but his struggles without his blue line partner were evident in the last three games. Slavin is the guy who really balances Carolina’s top defense pairing – he does a great job of bailing out Hamilton’s gaffes and allowing him to take offensive risks. For Brind’Amour, their chemistry gives him the luxury of having two excellent pairings at his dispatch that can play big shut down minutes and also be a handful in the offensive zone.

Jaccob Slavin Carolina Hurricanes
Jaccob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

While Slavin sat with a lower-body injury, Brett Pesce and Brady Sjkei stepped up in big ways to hold down the fort on the Hurricanes’ back end. When it comes to pure workload, only Darnell Nurse (154:36) of the Edmonton Oilers has logged more minutes this postseason than Pesce (154:21) and Skjei (146:46).

Those two guys deserve a ton of credit, as they took that responsibility in full stride, while simultaneously flexing the defensive depth the Hurricanes are famous for. We’ve come to expect that level of play from Pesce, but Skjei in particular has been a special addition these playoffs in his highlighted role.

Since losing Haydn Fleury at the trade deadline, the Hurricanes don’t have a great amount of stability on the left side of their blue line. With Slavin out, Skjei beared a huge burden as the only left-shot in a penalty killing role. The Hurricanes have been shorthanded a league-high 22 times in these playoffs, so it’s been crucial that their penalty kill remain strong. Thanks to Skjei logging 4:53 shorthanded TOI per game, and Pesce handling 4:55, the ‘Canes have killed 20 of 22 Nashville power plays – a success rate of 90.9 percent.

Hurricanes Still Need More From Svechnikov

Staal is leading the charge, Sebastian Aho has been terrific and now Necas has made his mark on this series. Yet, there’s still no sign of Andrei Svechnikov.

There could be a lingering injury, a confidence issue, or maybe he’s just been ridden with rotten luck for a big part of the season. He’s been engaged physically, which is a good sign, but he seems to have no confidence offensively. He’s often bobbling plays with the puck, passing off too quickly, and failing to convert when he does get shots away. His shooting percentage in these playoffs is a dismal 4.8 percent, and has just one goal in 32 shot attempts.

Andrei Svechnikov Carolina Hurricanes
Andrei Svechnikov, Carolina Hurricanes (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

It’s hard for me to be critical of Svechnikov’s game, because he is still making an impact in other ways. But, the expectation is that he can be more of a game changer, especially on the scoresheet. Energy and physicality has never been an issue with this team. Guys like Steven Lorentz, Jordan Martinook and Brock McGinn bring that every night. But in Svechnikov’s case, he needs to be more than just a physical presence. That’s what has made him such a dangerous and complete player in the past.

He’s in his third year now in the NHL, his third playoffs, yet he seems to have taken a step back since last season. Brind’Amour has tried him on several lines and combinations throughout the year – the top line with Aho and Teuvo Teravainen, as well as flanking the wing of Staal or Vincent Trocheck. The only time Svechnikov was scoring at a steady rate was at the beginning of the season, when he tallied up seven goals and nine assists in his first 16 games.

He’s far from the only one, but the Hurricanes really do need more from Svechnikov – especially later on if they’re going to advance past this first round. With all due respect to the Predators, this was supposed to be the easiest round for the Hurricanes, and they’re just barely getting by.

Still More Hockey to be Played

If this series has taught us anything, it’s that you can’t abandon your game plan when things don’t go your way. Ideally, the Hurricanes would like to put the Predators away in Game 6 Thursday in Nashville, but with their home fans behind them, it’s going to be their toughest challenge yet this postseason. Although the ‘Canes have arguably been the better team in all five games, it’s the results that matter in the end.

The Predators are 9-1-0 in their last 10 games at home, dating back to the regular season. They’ve taken both games on home soil in this series as well, so if the Hurricanes are going to avoid a seventh game, they’re going to have to do even more of what they’ve committed themselves to this postseason. It’s all about resiliency.