A team that got a day off Saturday after two difficult losses needed some kind of a spark to get things going Sunday. For the Carolina Hurricanes in these desperate circumstances, it came from goalie Petr Mrazek. And not even with his shutout.
After Lawson Crouse slashed at the puck as Mrazek had it covered, Mrazek got two good pops in on Crouse’s chest with his blocker before anyone could react. A scrum ensued. Mrazek escaped without a penalty. The message was delivered all the same: The next Arizona Coyotes player who poked at the puck in Mrazek’s crease, a few minutes later, was immediately plowed over by Dougie Hamilton.
“He got me right across the fingers,” Mrazek said afterward, flexing his hand, as proud of his fisticuffs as his goaltending.
Mrazek also used his blocker for stopping pucks in the 3-0 shutout, his first with the Hurricanes and the Hurricanes’ first of the season. In the third, with the Hurricanes nursing a dangerous – for them, anyway – three-goal lead, a shot from the point took a few deflections and came whizzing through a forest of legs. Mrazek caught sight of it at the very last moment and punched it away, the kind of save you can’t expect a goalie to make but certainly appreciate it when he does.
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That let the Hurricanes unveil their latest win celebration, three weeks aging in the cellar, although in the big picture this win is perhaps more expected than appreciated, a deceptively pivotal game for the Hurricanes.
Injuries aside, if they couldn’t beat the Coyotes, at home, at the end of a long road trip, it would have been time to fold up the tent, stamp out the fire and call in the dogs. There are no easy points in the NHL, but there are certainly mandatory points, and these were two of those, even if the Hurricanes weren’t coming off a 1-4-2 stretch needlessly extended by Friday’s three-goal collapse against the Washington Capitals.
That, combined with Thursday’s grim loss in Montreal, led to a Saturday off. Not a reward, but a respite.
“It wasn’t in the works in the beginning, but after the way that game went (against) Washington, and the night before, we just felt like the guys needed a mental break from the game of hockey,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “Because we’ve been grinding a lot and not getting results and it’s just tough.”
No one represented that more than Warren Foegele, who scored the opening goal and recorded his first point in a month. In some ways, his season has mirrored the Hurricanes’, opening in a flurry of optimism and good feelings only to degenerate into a frustrating and unrewarding grind.
Taking care of business like that, in a game like this, is less about the playoffs or momentum or any of that than it is plain old self-respect. These aren’t games or points good teams let slip away. Teams that can’t take care of this kind of business are telling on themselves. You can’t make the playoffs on a Sunday afternoon like this, but you can miss them. It’s a different kind of pressure, one this franchise hasn’t always embraced.
Nothing against the Coyotes, the Western Conference’s Hurricanes. Their roster is as lacking in goal-scoring star power as Carolina’s, their playoff drought almost as lengthy. If the home ice were reversed, this game would have the same gravity for them as it did the Hurricanes.
“We could have come in here and started pouting and sulking,” Foegele said. “But we didn’t do that. We had everybody going.”
Refreshed, with their goalie punching the way through, the Hurricanes did what they needed to do Sunday. Now they have to build on that.