In the warm afterglow of Tuesday night’s dizzying swings of emotion, from the despair of the second period to the joy of the third, it was easy for the Carolina Hurricanes to feel pretty good about things for a couple of days. Most of them.
For a few others, despite the victory, there was still unresolved business going into Friday night’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Washington Capitals. For Cam Ward, Noah Hanifin and Matt Tennyson, Tuesday was far from forgotten when the Hurricanes hosted the Washington Capitals to begin a weekend of three home games in four days.
Ward was pulled after the Vancouver Canucks’ third goal in the 8-6 Carolina win Tuesday, and while it’s hard to pin too much blame on him given the Hurricanes’ complete and utter surrender in front of the net, he was still partially guilty of misplaying the third goal. His removal was as much about sending a message to the team as it was making a change in net, but still, this was not a trend Ward or the Hurricanes wanted to see continue.
And that’s about more than just Friday. The story of Ward’s decade as the Hurricanes’ No. 1 netminder has never been about his inability to play the position; when he’s on, he’s as good as anyone in the game. It’s been his inability, sometimes because of injuries, sometimes not, to stay hot for an extended period of time. Something always seems to get in the way. As good as he has been lately, Tuesday felt like one of those potential tipping points, which put the spotlight on him Friday.
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For the most part, it was the kind of performance the Hurricanes would have wanted from Ward. He extended his left toe to deny Alex Ovechkin after he undressed Jaccob Slavin and sliced between Slavin and Brett Pesce for a clean look, and there was little Ward could do about Ovechkin’s goal (top shelf on the power play) or T.J. Oshie’s game-tying goal in the third (a bouncing deflection in the slot) or a point-blank Oshie chance among several saves in overtime.
Ward didn’t single-handedly put the Hurricanes in position to win, as he often did during the seven preceding home wins, but he gave the Hurricanes a chance to win. The interesting question now is whether Bill Peters comes back with Ward on Saturday against the Buffalo Sabres, with the Detroit Red Wings looming Monday.
As for Hanifin and Tennyson, their ability to play together on the third defensive pairing helped the Hurricanes recover from their tenuous start to the season, after the revolving door of Jakub Nakladal, Klas Dahlbeck and Ryan Murphy couldn’t get the job done. Tennyson’s arrival from Charlotte (AHL) stabilized the pairing, but given his lack of NHL experience and Hanifin’s age, that’s another area where the Hurricanes are always going to be alert for signs of slippage.
There were plenty of those Tuesday. That pairing was on the ice for three of Vancouver’s goals and at various degrees of fault, most notably Brandon Sutter’s third-period goal that brought the Canucks back within a goal after Carolina’s furious rally.
They got a baptism by fire Friday: Peters started with Justin Faulk and Ron Hainsey, then sent out Slavin and Pesce. That left Hanifin and Tennyson up when Ovechkin’s line came over the boards for the first time. Peters could have gone back to Faulk and Hainsey, but he let Hanifin and Tennyson handle things, and they survived, as they did all night. Tennyson was on the ice for one goal against, but for the most part, that pairing had a quiet game at a time when it really needed one.
In many ways, the Hurricanes picked up where they left off against the Canucks, with Jeff Skinner opening the scoring less than six minutes in. For Ward, Hanifin and Tennyson, there was more to prove.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, email@example.com, @LukeDeCock