As surprising as it may have been to see Ian Cole, of all players, score the overtime winner — joining Tim Gleason and the Secret Weapon, Niclas Wallin, among Carolina Hurricanes defensemen to do so — there was very little shocking about how the Hurricanes forced overtime in the first place.
Sebastian Aho has never gone three playoff games without a point in his career and he didn’t Wednesday, not after ramming home his own rebound late in the third period to give the Hurricanes a fighting chance in a game they had been generally outplayed by the New York Rangers.
Even after having less of an impact in the previous two games — getting clobbered by Charlie McAvoy probably didn’t help — Aho is always popping up like that in the playoffs, at key moments and critical times, even if it took a late reunion with Teuvo Teravainen to provoke his best work as the Hurricanes came charging back in the third period on their way to a 2-1 win.
The question now is how many of the Hurricanes’ other stars are ready to join Aho in the spotlight after their narrow escape in Game 1.
Because the harsh reality is the Hurricanes squeaked by the Boston Bruins in Game 7 thanks to the unexpected and timely contributions of Max Domi and lost their way in the latter part of Game 6 of that series much the way they struggled in Game 1 against the Rangers. They’ve been able to rely heavily on Antti Raanta, who has been terrific in net, but it’s not necessarily a sustainable recipe for success. It’s not what got them here.
They need more of their stars to do what Aho did Wednesday, and rise to this occasion.
Andrei Svechnikov has been throwing his body around, to his credit, but also throwing the puck around. He ended up on what was essentially the fourth line in the third period Wednesday with Vincent Trocheck and Martin Necas, both of whom also need to be better, more so even than Svechnikov. The nominal fourth line, with Necas and Jesperi Kotkaniemi and, lately, Steven Lorentz, has the talent to chip in a goal or two as well … but has not.
Aho and Teravainen and Seth Jarvis can be better, collectively, than they have been. That’s true across the board. And even if the Jordan Staal trio gets a pass because of the defensive assignments it has been asked to take on, it has definitely more to offer. Nino Niederreiter had the Hurricanes’ first, best chance to even things up Wednesday on a breakaway, and banged an open look off the crossbar.
It’s great that Jaccob Slavin and Tony DeAngelo are tied for the team lead in scoring, a welcome diversity of offense from the defense, but there remains a lot of untapped offensive potential among the Hurricanes.
In that sense, they aren’t alone — the best line on the ice Wednesday was the Rangers’ precocious trio of Filip Chytil, Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere — but they are playing with fire. The Hurricanes need their best players — you may have heard this before — to be their best players.
The Hurricanes’ greatest offensive strength is their forward depth, the way they can come in waves, wearing the opposition down, four lines at a time. That’s not what happened against the Rangers in the third period and overtime Wednesday.
“We didn’t wear them down after two, that’s for sure,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said Thursday. “That’s a good point. Normally that’s how it goes in a lot of games. Definitely, we didn’t do enough to wear them down. We just had a little more desperation to our game.”
The Hurricanes will take the win, and the way they turned things on when it matters bodes well for their resilience down the road. They also are the first to admit they can play so much better, as they did throughout the regular season, as they did at times against the Bruins, with everyone contributing as they can.
The playoffs are never easy, but they also don’t have to be this hard.
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