The Carolina Hurricanes were in some real trouble Tuesday night. Having lost their last two games to lower-seeded Nashville in double overtime, they were in imminent danger of going down 3-2 in the series, as the scoreboard in Game 5 read 2-1, Preds, with under eight minutes to go in the third. But then Martin Necas—a decent young scorer who’s often overshadowed by the Canes’ exciting core talents—pulled a gorgeous trick out of his bag to tie the game, and suddenly it felt like everything was going to be all right.
Necas had already tied the game once before, using his tremendous wrist shot on the power play to make it 1-1 in the first. But after Yakov Trenin finished a 2-on-1 fast break in the second, and as Preds goalie Juuse Saros kept making stops on the Canes, there remained more work to do if Carolina was going to avoid heading back to Nashville in a do-or-die situation.
That’s when Necas stepped up again with the kind of goal you keep replaying in your head for days after. Starting with the puck in stride on the blue line closest to his own net, Necas deked to his left at center ice to eliminate Filip Forsberg from the play while also speeding past Ryan Johansen. Then, as he moved closer to the danger zone, he protected the puck from Matt Duchene and carried it behind the net. Finally, before Saros could contort himself to the other side of his crease, Necas was there to deposit the puck and make it a 2-2 game.
That sent it to overtime, where after just a few minutes Canes captain Jordan Staal took advantage of a 4-on-4 and knocked the puck in amid some chaos around the crease, avoiding another extra-long game and giving Carolina the chance to clinch on Thursday.
“At first, I was for sure looking for somebody else,” Necas said afterwards. “I had a little speed, and I saw that Saros was pretty far from his crease. I saw there was an opportunity for that. Fortunately, it worked.”
It was a type of highlight he’d tried and succeeded at before, though never in circumstances anywhere near as dramatic. Back against the Blue Jackets in March, Necas broke a 1-1 tie in the second period by taking a turned-over puck in his offensive zone, skating way wide right of the CBJ defensemen, and then doubling back behind the net and tucking it in on one knee well before Joonas Korpisalo could get a leg over. Look familiar?
After netting 14 goals for Carolina this year, the 22-year-old Necas hadn’t scored yet in the postseason before last night. He was hardly alone as a Cane who hadn’t yet delivered on his full potential in this series, and that’s why it’s impossible to overstate just how important this win was, for him and for his team. Carolina is clearly the more talented of the two rosters here. But in a series where three straight games now have gone to OT thanks in large part to the goaltending of Saros—who has made 144 saves since the start of Game 3—the difference between being a game away from advancement or a game away from elimination is mentally and practically enormous. Without that glorious wraparound goal, the team with the third-most points in all of hockey would be fighting for its life on the road in a building that keeps getting more and more hostile. But thanks to Marty Necas, they’ve earned a do-over back home if they can’t close it out in six.