Hockey games aren’t always won on slick offensive moves or acrobatic goaltender saves. It isn’t about style points.
Sometimes, it’s a player gritting his teeth and stepping in the way of a heavy slapshot.
Then, doing it again.
Joakim Nordstrom did that Sunday for the Carolina Hurricanes, blocking back-to-back shots in overtime by the Nashville Predators’ P.K. Subban. It allowed the Canes to kill off a penalty against Jordan Staal and the Preds’ four-on-three power play, and allowed them to escape overtime and eventually win 4-3 in a shootout at PNC Arena.
“Blocking those two bombs, we rallied around it,” Canes forward Justin Williams said.
To stay in the thick of the playoff chase in the Eastern Conference, the Hurricanes (10-8-4) need more of that – a willingness to accept the pain to make a play, to do whatever is necessary to secure two points.
“It hurts way more to see a puck go into the back of the net than to get hit by it,” Nordstrom said. “It’s an easy choice for me.”
No one appreciated it more than Canes goalie Scott Darling, who once played with Nordstrom in Chicago and said, “That’s ‘Nordy’ through and through. He would do that in the first minute of a game against any team.”
And not just Nordstrom. Marcus Kruger and Jaccob Slavin also blocked shots in the overtime.
But for a team like the Hurricanes, that’s what it’s going to take. Everyone has a job to do and must do it.
Victor Rask, for example. The center recently was made a healthy scratch for two straight games, something of a comedown for the quiet, proud Swede. But he had a plus-3 rating Friday against the Toronto Maple Leafs – albeit in 5-4 loss – and then contributed a goal and assist Sunday in being named the game’s first star.
“We need that out of him, and we need that each and every night, and that’s part of being a pro,” Canes coach Bill Peters said.
Few know more about “being a pro” than Williams. After more than 1,100 games in the NHL, after winning three Stanley Cup rings, Williams has as good a handle on how to win games as anyone in the league.
On Sunday, Williams was a big part of it. His power-play goal in the third period came when he went to the front of the net, slipped to the side, then returned to bang the puck past Juuse Saros for a 3-2 lead.
Earlier, when Subban began bumping and harassing the Canes’ Jeff Skinner in an increasingly chippy second period, Williams more or less put an end to it, going after Subban.
Williams was called for an interference penalty and defenseman Mattias Ekholm’s power-play goal gave Nashville a 2-1 lead. But Rask tied it 2-2, backhanding a rebound, and Williams scored in the third.
It was a game of hard checks and tough puck battles. Once, when crowded by the Preds’ Calle Jarnkrok, Darling reminded him that he is a 6-6, 232-pounder, swatting Jarnkrok away.
Darling’s low point this season came last week against the New York Rangers, when he muffed Mika Zibanejad’s high-floating flip from outside the blue line for a stunning goal in a 6-1 loss.
“That just can’t happen in the National League,” Darling said Sunday. “I just lost it in the lights. It was comparable to an outfielder with the sun. I saw it, saw it, lost it, lost it and it was gone. It was ugly, and I hope it never happens again.”
The Canes were 1-2 in shootouts this season and 1-4 in games decided in overtime before Sunday. But the Canes won this one as Darling made the stops in the shootout, and Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen scored shootout goals for Carolina.
After losing the past two games and facing 10 of the next 12 games on the road, the Hurricanes sensed the importance of Sunday’s win.
“Really big,” Williams said. “We know where that (playoff) line is and we know we’re beneath it. It’s time to go punch in and get some points.”