Nobody Can Stop The Hurricanes Right Now
12:27 PM EST on February 1, 2023
The climactic moments of the Carolina Hurricanes' comeback win over the Kings on Tuesday night felt like they could have come straight from 2017. This is not a franchise with a ton of history to celebrate, but you could almost get nostalgic watching the guys who provided the heroics, because they're the primary reason this franchise is on the longest sustained run of success in its history.
I'll pick things up with 10 minutes to go in the third. The Kings clobbered Carolina goalie Frederik Andersen in the second to build a 4-1 advantage before a thawed-out Paul Stastny took one back early in the last period. That signaled that it was time for the past to come to life. First it was 34-year-old Jordan Staal—the captain who's been there since the dark days of 2012–13, who arrived from the Penguins and played six whole seasons as a tough and effective center with the Canes before even sniffing the playoffs again—pushing his way into a dangerous spot and deflecting a Brett Pesce shot into the net.
Just a few minutes later, another old friend announced his presence. Teuvo Teravainen, who's gone from the Canes' primary magic-maker to a winger still working his way back to full health, capped an encouraging month with a powerful one-timer that knotted the game.
And in overtime, it was the man whose emergence marked the start of this new Carolina era—Sebastian Aho—who sent the fans home happy. Twice in 3-on-3 he tried and failed to manufacture a spectacular breakaway score, but after Drew Doughty got called for tripping, he took advantage of the extra man to slip a puck by Pheonix Copley (not a typo).
Aho was a sweetie in the postgame, too.
On paper, the Hurricanes have all the hallmarks of a Cup contender. They have the experience of four straight playoff appearances, a 33-9-8 record that tops everyone in the league outside of Boston, and an NHL-best 33 games in which they've scored first. Analytically they are just astounding, creating the most chances at 5-on-5 and allowing far fewer than anybody else. This isn't usually how the award works, but Rod Brind'Amour deserves Coach of the Year consideration for the way the Canes play fundamentally perfect hockey that gives them control of a game and pushes the other team backward without just resorting to blunt, obvious physicality. With only four major penalties this year and 17.34 hits per game—both 30th in the league—Carolina is a beautiful example of how you can bend a team to your will without just cross-checking some guys in the mouth.
But despite the results, it hasn't been a smooth road to get here. First, the Canes had to weather turnover from last year, losing key players like Tony DeAngelo, Nino Niederreiter, and Vincent Trocheck. Bearded veteran Brent Burns, traded from San Jose to provide both a morale and a blue line boost, is putting together a vintage year as a team leader, but other signings have been less lucky. Ondrej Kase, who scored 14 goals in 50 games for the Leafs last year, has been in concussion hell since the season opener. Max Pacioretty, who looked to be a game-changing presence after his delayed debut in January, is once again off the ice following a brutal re-tear of his Achilles.
Goalie is a problem that hasn't been solved yet, either. Though the way the Canes play make this one of the easiest netminder positions in the NHL, they still would like someone to rely on, and they haven't quite found him. Frederik Andersen, presumed to be The Guy after an incredible first season in Carolina last year, missed a large chunk with injury and hasn't proven he's all the way back. Young Pyotr Kochetkov, such a pleasant surprise in November and December, has returned to the minors after dropping back down to Earth. And Antti Raanta is nothing more or less than a second-stringer.
But the Hurricanes keep winning. Tuesday's victory was their sixth in a row, and in their last nine they've dropped just one point, which means they've managed to keep their distance from an equally hot group of Devils at the top of their division. Even without any one player delivering a standout year (Martin Necas, their top points guy, is 48th in the league), the Canes play suffocating, intelligent team hockey that should be as resistant as possible to weird fluctuations.
And on top of their consistency, they've shown a little flair for the dramatic, too. There was the comeback last night, but also, just a few days ago, Necas grabbed the spotlight with a pair of back-to-back OT winners. First, against Dallas, he bopped around with the puck for 10 seconds before finding the opening that let him win the game. And then, facing the Sharks back at home, he one-upped himself with a very, very late equalizer and then an ecstatic finish on a break at the end.
A team that's structurally unbreakable and clutch? I don't know how you're supposed to beat that.