Once again the Carolina Hurricanes faced a mountain to climb in the third period, this time a 2-0 deficit to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Once again, they came through in the clutch, rallying for a 3-2 win and, for the moment, a playoff spot.
For a stretch of 138:41, dating back to his days in Philadelphia, Sergei Bobrovsky had owned Carolina, turning away every puck he faced. But the next 167 seconds belonged to the Staal brothers. Eric scored twice and Jordan recorded the game-winner, erasing a very sloppy first 51 minutes.
“It was a good comeback,” said Eric Staal. “I thought we got stronger and stronger, and eventually broke through in the third. Sometimes in this building, you feel it coming.”
In the first two periods, everything that could go wrong, did. Numerous turnovers, poor pinches, lost board battles, and two early goals — 17 seconds apart, just 2:25 in — led to a very subdued atmosphere. The lethargy on the ice was reflected in the stands.
Frustration set in, especially for Jordan Staal, who skated in his 100th game as a Hurricane.
“For a few guys, it was getting frustrating, including myself,” he said. “Eric was the one who kept it positive. He came out with some big goals to get our momentum going. Like I said, it was a fun comeback.”
The final 10 minutes featured a complete reversal of roles. The Canes started doing the little things, finally leading to results. Eric tied the game thanks to Jiri Tlusty outworking Jackets’ defenseman Fedor Tyutin in the corner and finding the captain alone out front. Similarly, on the tying goal, Elias Lindholm worked the puck along the near boards before feeding a streaking Jordan, who capped the comeback.
“Yeah, ‘Skinny’ made a great play up the wall to ‘Lindy’, and ‘Lindy’ just held the guy there. I just went for it from there.”
Columbus lost in regulation for only the second time when leading after two periods, and Carolina notched their fourth win when trailing after two.
The comebacks have been an impressive trend for the ‘Canes, whose 10-3 record since New Year’s Eve speaks for itself. On that night they dug themselves out of a three-goal hole in the third against the Montreal Canadiens — reminiscent of the Molson Miracle — with Alex Semin winning the game in overtime. In Buffalo they rallied from three separate one-goal deficits, taking the win on the second half of a back-to-back.
But how many times can they continue to go to the well?
As great of a feeling as eking out a win can be, it first requires a concession of goals, and sometimes they can come in bunches. One of the few blemishes over the Hurricanes recent hot streak came at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning, where four goals were surrendered in the first 20:24. That night, the gap was too large, and three goals were all Carolina could muster, despite putting up 51 shots. Thirteen other games ended in similar fashion.
And sometimes, they’re the victim. The season series against Columbus opened with the Jackets scoring twice in an 88-second span of the third period, turning a 3-2 loss into a 4-3 win, and leaving the Canes shell-shocked.
“They rope-a-doped us, so we got them back,” Eric said. “It’s a good feeling to have that result when you put that work in, that right effort. That always helps build trust in each other, and the ability to stay in games when it doesn’t look like you are.”
Between the comebacks and the three game postponements, overcoming adversity has been the name of the game. And now the Canes sit third in the Metropolitan division, still with games in hand on nearly everyone in the Eastern Conference. At the Bell Centre in Montreal on Tuesday they’ll attempt tie a season-high five wins in a row, ironically against the team that jump-started their current hot. Full circle.
“This is the challenge to our guys. This is for us to get to the next level,” Kirk Muller said. “This is like playoff-style hockey. You’ve got to grind through it when you’re tired, whether it’s mental or physical, and find a way to get the job done.”