Luke DeCock

Luke DeCock: Lindholm turnaround comes at right time for Carolina Hurricanes

The Canes Elias Lindholm, left, celebrates his winning goal with Victor Rask  during the overtime period of against the Columbus Blue Jackets at PNC Arena in Raleigh.
The Canes Elias Lindholm, left, celebrates his winning goal with Victor Rask during the overtime period of against the Columbus Blue Jackets at PNC Arena in Raleigh. cseward@newsobserver.com

His teammates have taken to calling him the Swedish Beast, which is funny insofar as there’s very little beastly about Elias Lindholm. He’s decent-sized but not huge, he doesn’t look particularly mean and while he’s willing to get physically engaged, his biggest asset is a quick release on his shot.

Then again, he’s been a beast on the scoresheet, providing the key goals the Carolina Hurricanes needed to turn their season around – really, the only place that matters.

Lindholm, the 19-year-old forward in his second NHL season, had only a single assist as the Hurricanes stumbled to an 0-6-2 start, but he has five goals and two assists as the Hurricanes have gone 4-0-1 over the past five games going into Monday night’s home game against the Calgary Flames. Three of Lindholm’s goals were game-winners and the fourth was the game-tying goal to secure a point in Saturday’s 4-3 overtime loss at the Washington Capitals.

This isn’t one of those situations where people stand around and mutter how they never saw it coming. Everyone saw this coming. Lindholm was a top-five draft pick with obvious skill, and while he was up and down last year as an 18-year-old rookie making his first foray into North America, there were plenty of times he showed off his hands around the net.

“I saw it, to be honest, right when he first came,” said Hurricanes captain Eric Staal. “I don’t want to say I told you so as far as I’m a smart guy, but you could sense just the mind, the way he thinks and how he plays. At 18, I remember personally coming in at that age, the strength and the speed. It takes some time to adjust. You’ve seen the confidence grow. The plays are there. He’s making the right plays and decisions.”

Staal wasn’t alone. The question wasn’t if, but when. Few people expected when to be immediately, though – especially after Lindholm struggled through a snake-bit opening eight games where nothing went right for him or his team.

When Jordan Staal went down, the Hurricanes decided against moving him to center and kept him on the wing, which certainly made the team stronger – especially as Riley Nash and Victor Rask thrived down the middle – but only put more pressure on Lindholm to generate goals. And he felt it.

On the Hurricanes’ long road trip out west, general manager Ron Francis and coach Bill Peters sat down with Lindholm and the message was the same from both: “What can we do to help you?” With the team looking for its first win, Lindholm was clearly pressing.

They had no issues with Lindholm’s effort or enthusiasm, only the result.

“You do good things, you’re going to get rewarded,” Peters said. “He’s a great example of that.”

After scoring the overtime winner on Friday with a quick shot on a two-on-one, Lindholm said jokingly that he “closed my eyes and shot it.” (His eyes were almost shut for him when he took a stick under his visor after a first-period faceoff, escaping with three stitches across the bridge of his nose.) Saturday, he tied the score late to force overtime with a deflection of a Justin Faulk shot that he could barely see as he twisted out of a scrum in front of the net.

That’s how it goes, sometimes – when you’re on, you’re on. Lindholm nearly scored at the end of regulation Friday with a snap shot off a faceoff. It was the kind of shot where the only reaction is to say, “That kid’s going to score a lot of goals in this league.” It took him only a few minutes to prove that reaction right. Again.

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