It’s one thing to put five goals past the Calgary Flames on a Sunday afternoon. It’s another to make it look just as easy against the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Flames are going nowhere fast. The Blackhawks are the NHL’s gold standard, the epitome of both short-term and long-term success. Tuesday, the Carolina Hurricanes handed them their worst loss of the season, heading into the All-Star break with a confidence-boosting 5-0 win, their seventh in the past 10 games.
Since they turned a corner in early December, it’s been a little hard to tell just how good these Hurricanes actually are. There’s no better measuring stick than the Blackhawks. The Washington Capitals may have more points, but the Blackhawks are a relentless machine, winners of 12 in a row before dropping a pair in Florida last week.
To do what the Hurricanes did to the Blackhawks is no trivial feat. Before the first period was over, it was 3-0, with almost the entire period played in the Chicago end.
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While the Blackhawks certainly cooperated with considerably less than their best, take nothing away from the Hurricanes’ effort. This was the kind of hockey Bill Peters wants his team playing every night: roaring up and down the ice as a unit, getting pucks to the net, going after rebounds.
The Hurricanes played like they had something to prove. Which is exactly how they felt.
The Hurricanes have been piling up points: 34 in the past 26 games, 7-3-3 in January despite playing 13 games in 26 days
“We don’t get on national TV that often,” Hurricanes captain Eric Staal said. “We knew it was an (NBCSN) game, and we wanted to put a good foot forward. I thought the guys were ready to go. We were competitive, we were energized and obviously built a lead. It was definitely a game where we wanted to prove we can compete with these top teams. We’ve got to keep proving that. We’ve got a long way to go.”
The Hurricanes can be a tough team to figure out. Their position in the standings is inflated by the number of games they have played – more than all the other teams in wild-card contention – and while their possession and scoring-chance numbers remain excellent, their goaltending and special teams have been erratic.
But they have also been putting away points: 34 in the past 26 games, 7-3-3 in January despite playing 13 games in 26 days. Blowout losses to the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers were particularly damaging to the Hurricanes’ wild-card hopes, but otherwise there’s a lot to like.
I think we’re certainly getting the confidence that we can win a few more games than some of these other teams down the stretch.
Hurricanes defenseman Ron Hainsey
“I think we’re certainly getting the confidence that we can win a few more games than some of these other teams down the stretch,” Hurricanes defenseman Ron Hainsey said. “The toughest part of our schedule is behind us, which was really just this last month. There’s a lot to be optimistic about here.”
That includes Eddie Lack, who stopped 61 of 62 shots in two wins over the Blackhawks this season. Since Cam Ward went on the shelf with a concussion, Lack has a 2.17 goals-against average and .930 save percentage, a substantial improvement on his numbers for the season.
Still, as impressive as Tuesday’s win was, it’s important not to get carried away. To get to the 98 points likely required to make the playoffs, the Hurricanes will have to finish 20-7-4 or its equivalent. That’s an even faster pace than the one the Hurricanes have been on since early December.
There are still big questions to be asked – particularly of these precocious young defensemen going through the grind of an NHL season for the first time and of Lack even after Ward returns – but the Hurricanes showed Tuesday that they can skate circles around the NHL’s best, at least for one night.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock