Canes win like pin­ball wizards

The Herald Sun - - Sports - BY LUKE DECOCK lde­[email protected]­sob­

Micheal Fer­land and Justin Wil­liams were de­bat­ing on the bench which one of them ac­tu­ally scored and nei­ther knew for sure. It’s a good con­ver­sa­tion to have, not only be­cause it means some­one scored a goal but be­cause the Carolina Hur­ri­canes are fi­nally start­ing to score the kind of goals where it’s un­clear how the puck ac­tu­ally got in the net.

In this case, a Se­bas­tian Aho shot hit Fer­land in the leg, went off the stick of Nashville Preda­tors de­fense­man Dan Hamhuis and off the blade of Wil­liams’ stick on its way into the net, the fifth of six Hur­ri­canes goals in a 6-3 win Sun­day and the one that chased Pekka Rinne from the Nashville net just after the half­way point.

It’s the kind of dis­cus­sion the Hur­ri­canes are hav­ing a lot these days, be­cause after three months where they couldn’t catch a break they have sud­denly turned into pin­ball wizards, ben­e­fit­ing from an im­prob­a­ble as­sort­ment of bounces, car­oms, ric­o­chets, redi­rec­tions, de­flec­tions and di­ver­sions as the team that couldn’t shoot straight sud­denly can’t miss.

“I guess it’s how it goes,” said Aho, after his sec­ond ca­reer hat trick.

“We haven’t changed the way we played,” Fer­land said.

They have come a long way from the grim days of De­cem­ber, when noth­ing seemed to go right and the Hur­ri­canes went three weeks with­out a pow­er­play goal. Sun­day, as “Hip Hop Hooray” played in the dress­ing room after­ward and Aho presided over a pile of hats at his locker, Dougie Hamil­ton sang along – “Hey, Aho” – and swung his arms over his head.

In win­ning seven of their past eight, a good start to­ward sal­vaging their sea­son, the Hur­ri­canes have scored 32 goals over those eight games – seven on the power play, two short-handed, a few pretty, many ugly. And never more ugly ones than this Fri­day-Sun­day sweep of Buf­falo and Nashville.

Of the 10 goals the Hur­ri­canes

have scored in the past 48 hours, four were the re­sult of some kind of fluke or for­tu­nate cir­cum­stance. That in­cludes Fer­land’s open­ing goal Fri­day, which as it played Plinko on its way into the net bounced off the top of the back frame of the goal, some­thing that never hap­pens. Aho scored twice in that game off op­po­nents, his first off Ras­mus Dahlin’s skate, his sec­ond off Jake McCabe’s stick.

Satur­day, a Ro­man Josi pass in­tended for Calle Jarnkrok hit Jarnkrok in the skate and bounced straight to Aho in the neu­tral zone for a break­away. Aho, who is ap­par­ently ter­ri­ble on shootouts in prac­tice, beat Rinne cold for the open­ing goal.

The Hur­ri­canes couldn’t catch a break in Novem­ber and now they’re scor­ing al­most by ac­ci­dent.

“Fi­nally,” Teuvo Ter­a­vainen said. “We’re do­ing a lot of things right and maybe that’s why we’re get­ting these bounces.”

To that point, Aho’s break­away came after he pres­sured Josi at the right point into mak­ing a spin­ning pass into the mid­dle. Josi might not even have seen Jarnkrok sprint­ing into the zone from the bench. If the pass is a foot in front of Jarnkrok in­stead, he’s free down the slot and it’s 1-0 Nashville. In­stead, it kicks off his skate the other way, Aho picks it up, Josi falls down and it’s 1-0 Carolina. Aho’s tenac­ity on de­fense led di­rectly to of­fense.

“He’s ac­tu­ally in the wrong spot,” Hur­ri­canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “He jumped a guy he isn’t sup­posed to jump. That’s what top-end guys can do. It’s a good thing he scored, that’s all I’ll say about that.”

As for the rest of it, the Hur­ri­canes have been fir­ing pucks at the net all year hop­ing good things would hap­pen only for noth­ing to hap­pen. Their shoot­ing per­cent­age was un­ex­pect­edly low and all the bounces seemed to go the other way, which is a bad com­bi­na­tion.

Now they’re beat­ing goalies in­stead of rat­ting their chest pro­tec­tors –Wil­liams’ goal Fri­day was nasty, Aho and Saku Manalae­nen scored off dif­fi­cult one-timers Sun­day and even Lu­casWall­mark got into the act with a well-placed shot on the rush – and ben­e­fit­ing from a re­mark­able run of puck luck, earned as it may be.

“We were out­played,” Nashville coach Peter Lavi­o­lette said. “They were quicker, they wanted it more and they ex­e­cuted it bet­ter.”

They’ll even ar­gue they played bet­ter in the 2-0 loss at the New Jer­sey Devils be­fore this run than they did through the start of this run of this run, but kept the faith through dis­tress­ing times and are now see­ing the re­sults go their way.

Some of that is mere prob­a­bil­ity and sta­tis­ti­cal hap­pen­stance – some re­gres­sion to the mean was in­evitable, but there was no guar­an­tee it would hap­pen be­fore it was too late – but mo­men­tum is a real thing in hockey and the Hur­ri­canes have it now. It’s as real as the con­fu­sion on the bench after the fifth goal, the best kind of con­fu­sion to have.



Carolina Hur­ri­canes’ An­drei Svech­nikov col­lides with Nashville Preda­tors’ Austin Wat­son (51) dur­ing the sec­ond pe­riod on Sun­day in Raleigh.

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