RALEIGH, N.C. — It looked like it would be yet another long game for the Carolina Hurricanes when they got down 3-0 to the Edmonton Oilers midway through the second period. But the home team rallied and was able to score six unanswered goals, three in the second period and three in the third, to ultimately pull away for a 7-4 win.
1. The Hurricanes’ spark on offense came from a somewhat unlikely source
The Hurricanes (25-32-7) have never quite known what they are going to get from their talented but enigmatic left winger Alexander Semin. He’s been a healthy scratch 17 times this year, which was two higher than the number of points he’d accumulated on the season (15) entering Sunday’s game.
His talent is undeniable, though, and that was evident as he scored the Hurricanes’ first goal of the game 10:38 into the second. He was pulled down in front of Edmonton’s net, and as he lay on the ground, he reached around the back of his head with his stick to poke the puck into the net, blindly.
"That’s the type of goal you only see on the highlights and now, we can watch one live," Elias Lindholm, who finished with his first career hat trick, said after the game. "So it’s very cool to see."
After Semin’s improbable goal, the floodgates opened. The Hurricanes would score twice more in the next six minutes to tie the score at 3-3 entering the third, and then the momentum kept up as three more goals came in the first 6:49 of the final period.
"You always want to get that first one and when you get one like that, it was fun to see and then kind of feel the momentum shift a little bit more. The energy was picked up and we carried it on from there," Eric Staal said.
Semin doesn’t speak to the media much, uncomfortable with his second language (English). But he did after that goal. "I just shoot for the net and that’s it," Semin said with a grin. When asked if it was just instinct to reach behind his head, he said, "I don’t know. I am playing hockey," and then laughed.
There’s some truth to that.
It was a crazy play, but it’s what he’s capable of doing.
"That’s a pure circus shot, but he’s got skill. That’s pretty evident, and I think everybody knows that," Staal said. "It’s just one of those desperation plays with skill on top of it. He’s going to the net hard and a guy took a penalty on him, he’s down and from there, your natural instinct and skill takes over. Pretty nice."
"I think obviously, it’s a highlight-reel goal," Jeff Skinner, Semin’s linemate, said. "But it doesn’t happen unless he’s working and not giving up on the play. It was nice to see. I think the guys responded after that."
Peters has clearly seen something click with him. Semin has now played in eight straight games and if he is on the ice on Tuesday against the Columbus Blue Jackets, that will be nine straight — a season high.
When he’s on like this, it makes everyone else better.
"(Semin) scored that first goal, but it was going to be a penalty there, and then he generated another penalty to create the 5-on-3, so he had an impact on the game," Peters said. "He was a good player today."
2. The Hurricanes were rewarded for staying with it
Peters wasn’t pleased with the way that his team played against two of the better teams in the league last week, at Chicago on Monday and then at home against Minnesota on Friday. It wasn’t that the team lost, or the margin of victory, or anything like that. It was, as Peters would say, their compete level.
Even as they got down 3-0 early at home against Edmonton (18-37-11), though — one of the worst teams in the league — Peters was pretty content with his team’s energy.
"To be honest with you, I thought we were good early. It didn’t show on the scoreboard, but I didn’t mind our start at all," Peters said.
Peters has tried all season long to get his guys to stick with it if the plan isn’t working. This team is going to just plain lose to some teams that it is better than, but he always wants to keep certain parts of their game consistent. Even after going down 3-0, they didn’t panic.
"The guys stayed with the game plan, stayed with our game and knew that if we stayed with it, we were going to get some offensive opportunities. Clearly we did and scored six straight and kind of took the game away from them," Staal said.
And that’s what he wanted to see out of his team. It’s easy to stick with the plan if things are going well and the team is getting rewarded for it. It’s harder to do it when that’s not happening, even against a bad team.
"Instead of deviating away from what works, we just stayed with it and got rewarded. That should be a real good lesson moving forward — not just this year, but down the road," Peters said. "These young guys, there’s no panic, there’s no need to change anything. We didn’t need to become high-risk, and we got rewarded."
The team heard Peters’ message after Friday, and they heeded it.
"We wanted to respond, I think. Obviously, that wasn’t the way we wanted to play. It’s not the start we want to have coming off a loss like that," Skinner said. "I think it’s a good job by the guys of sticking with it and showing some character and staying with it and in the end, coming out on top."
3. The Hurricanes’ dominant penalty kill will need to take shape again with a new group, but they won the special teams battle anyway
The Hurricanes got into that 3-0 hole by allowing two power play goals in the second period. That was the first time the Hurricanes had allowed multiple power play goals in one game since the second game of the year, a 4-3 loss to the New York Islanders.
Their penalty kill leads the league (87.3 percent), but it hasn’t been quite as dominant as it once was — mostly because the Hurricanes traded away some defensemen that were key on that unit.
"We turned the puck over on the first (goal) and then obviously (allowed) two power play goals. We’ve got some young guys playing there that haven’t played there, so we’ve got some work to do with new personnel on the penalty kill," Peters said.
But it was nice to see the Hurricanes win the matchup of special teams, Peters said, in spite of the struggles on the kill — Carolina was 3-of-5 on the power play, and that’s a unit that has struggled all year.
"It was good the power play came through. It looks like all of a sudden you’ve given up two out of three on the kill and it looks like you’re going to lose the specialty teams battle, and at the end of the day, you end up winning it because you go 3-for-5," Peters said. "So real good job by those guys with the 5-on-3 with the execution, and then I thought we stayed hungry and made them pay obviously in the third period."
Especially after uncharacteristically allowing the power play goals, it was big to generate and capitalize on some chances themselves.
"We were down 3-0, but we were better. We still were playing better than it showed. A couple power play goals for them and then we found our legs and got the confidence going offensively," Staal said. "From there, we just got the job done."
Guys like Staal, Skinner and Lindholm, among others, have been a part of the power play and it can be a beautiful thing when players that skilled are feeling it. Lindholm didn’t score with the man advantage, but Skinner scored two of the power play goals, and Staal and Lindholm assisted his first one.
"I think (Lindholm) made a nice pass on my first goal, so he’s got a lot of skill out there and any time you get guys with skill, with time and space out there like he had today, I think you see the way he’s creating," Skinner said. "It’s fun to watch."
Elias Lindholm: The young forward finished with his first NHL hat trick, and he had two assists as well to bring his total to five points. He was a facilitator on the power play, but two of his three goals came in even-strength situations (the third was an empty-netter).
Jeff Skinner: His line wasn’t clicking as much as Lindholm’s was, but Skinner has always been great on the power play and he was again, as he had two of Carolina’s three power play goals. It was his first two-goal game of the season, and he’s now recorded a point in six of his last seven games.
Eric Staal: The captain was a plus-3, and he quietly facilitated Lindholm’s great game, finishing with four assists, including helpers on all three Lindholm goals.