Sports fans, it is that time of year: hockey is back!
I know that makes me one happy camper. Especially after a historic season last year that saw the Canes make the Eastern Conference Finals.
Going into this season, the Canes had a lot of expectations because of their deep run. With success, however, comes teams wanting a piece of the pie. Justin Faulk, one of our former top players, was traded to the St. Louis Blues. The Canes countered by receiving Joel Edumnson, and signing Jake Gardiner in free agency. Justin Williams is not on the Canes’ roster, but that is because he is taking time to evaluate whether he still wants to play hockey.
The Canes are expected to make another deep run this year, maybe even win their second Stanley Cup title in franchise history (first since 2006). They will have to do it without a couple of their guys from last year. So far, the Canes are off to a fast start.
Thursday, October 3. Opening Night in Raleigh. Canes-Canadiens. The stage was set for a home opener that was sure to bring fireworks.
And boy, did that game bring fireworks. The Canes jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, courtesy of goals from centers Lucas Wallmark (first Canes goal of the 2019-2020 NHL season) and Martin Necas. Petr Mrazek looked like the same goalie from last year.
Then, the wheels fell off. The Canadiens came storming back, scoring three unanswered goals in the second period. The first was courtesy of winger Tomas Tatar, the second courtesy of center Jesperi Kotkaniemi (third overall pick in 2018 NHL Draft), and third courtesy of winger Jordan Weal. The Canadiens had come to life, and the storm had been weathered. The score was 3-2 going into the third period.
The third period saw little offense, until Canes center Erik Haula, who was acquired from the Vegas Golden Knights in the offseason, scored at the 6:55 mark off of a rebound shot from Canes’ defenseman Dougie Hamilton. PNC Arena was back on its feet, just like the entire playoff run last year.
The overtime period was scoreless, but there were a couple of rushes down the ice in which either team could have ended it. In comes the overtime period, and after a shootout goal from Dougie Hamilton, Petr Mrazek made three great saves to give the Canes a 4-3 victory on Opening Night.
This past Saturday, we traveled to the Nation’s Capital, the same place where we won in Game Seven of last year’s first round via a sweet double-overtime goal from Brock McGinn (dubbed Brock McWin for that exact moment). I expected the Caps (and their fans) to be angry. The Caps were playing with a fire early on, as they took a 2-0 lead into the third period via goals from right winger Garnet Hathaway and left winger T.J. Oshie.
As the Canes did so well many times last season, they came back in the third period. The first goal (on the power play) was from Erik Haula, who had a goal that looked just like McGinn’s winner in Game Seven last year. The second goal was from Jaccob Slavin, one of our new Assistant Captains, who slid a puck through Braden Holtby’s legs off a pass on the odd-man rush. And just like last year, there was overtime in this game.
Also like last year, the Canes beat the Caps in overtime, this time via a goal from new defenseman Jake Gardiner, who skated all the way up the ice and put one past Holtby’s right shoulder. Canes 3, Caps 2. In overtime. In Washington.
If you thought the Canes ran out of Magic in Washington, think again. The Canes returned to PNC Arena the very next day to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning, the NHL’s best team (in terms of points) from a season ago. This time, the Canes would strike first, via a goal from defenseman Brett Pesce.
The Lightning would strike back, scoring three unanswered goals in the first period (their only three of the game). The first goal was from left winger Tyler Johnson, the second from defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, and the third from center Steven Stamkos.
In the second period, the Canes got a goal back. For the third straight game in a row, Erik Haula scored. Just like his goal against the Capitals, Haula scored off a rebound on the power play. In the third period, Dougie Hamilton would tie it up on a slapshot that came on the power play.
Enter overtime, and Jaccob Slavin is the hero. Slavin put a one-timer past last year’s playoff hero, Curtis McElhinney, to rock PNC Arena and send the Canes fans home happy.
Three straight games, three straight wins (in overtime). The Canes currently sit at 3-0-0, and that is the best record in the National Hockey League. I think this team is going to continue to be fun to watch. And if you can make it to a game this year, I would highly encourage it.
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