Cary, NC – Back in September, after just being announced as captain, Justin Williams made the statement that this team would make the playoffs as nothing less would be acceptable and making the playoffs was a process to win the Stanley Cup. His simple logic was: if you don’t get in the playoffs, you don’t have any chance of winning the Cup, and as he said, “that’s the ultimate goal and anything less is not what this team is about.”
After another stellar performance by Petr Mrazek, the Canes made good on Willie’s first promise by defeating the New Jersey Devils, 3-1 in front of a playoff-like loud crowd. The Canes did have some help as the Canadiens lost to the Capitals, allowing the Canes to have enough points even if they lose their last game. Which Willie would predict won’t happen.
Foegele Nets Highlight Reel Goal
The Canes came out tight as a banjo looking almost as if they were playing not to lose rather than their usual atttack, attack, attack, Rod Brind’Amour type of hockey. Up until this game, the Devils have had their way with the Canes, winning two of the three previous games, and both of those wins were over Mrazek with McElhinney in the goal for the lone Cane win.
The fan atmosphere in the parking lot was in playoff mode already with tailgates, corn hole games and good natured trash talk with Devils fans. The emphasis on the word “red” during the National Anthem was the loudest all year as the Caniacs knew the possibilities the night had in store. As it turned out, it was more the Caniacs than the Canes players who were into the game at the drop of the puck. The Devils were missing their #1 player in Taylor Hall and had plans on playing the spoiler as well as playing for pride, new contracts and it frankly is their job to win every game even while they’re out of playoff contention.
The all-important first goal was scored by the Devils’ Andy Greene on a wrist shot from the left point. Mrazek never saw the shot as he was completely screened and with wrister, goalies have no idea a shot was launched. Slap shots are noise giveaways and a goalie, even if screened, can change positions and knock a few bodies around for a hopeful block. The Canes are 12-22-4 when allowing the first goal while the Devils have an impressive 24-14-6 record scoring the first goal.
Later in the period, after a flurry of shots in the Canes’ end, Dougie Hamilton had the puck in the middle area of the Canes’ zone. He may have been the only person in the PNC Arena that thought he could make a Hail Mary pass to Warren Foegele in the neutral zone just this side of the blue line, as the neutral zone had four Devil skaters but the pass was right on Foegele’s tape. Foegele got the pass in a half stride which turned into a fast break on Cory Schneider burying the shot for a highlight reel goal. It was the rookie’s ninth of the season and he was as excited as if it was his first NHL goal.
The Caniacs were into the game early but calmed a bit after some lackluster play but that goal woke up the Caniacs and the noise level didn’t diminish the rest of the game.
Faulk Gets Canes Lead With Powerplay Goal
The Canes started the second period with just a few seconds of a 5-on-3, and give the Devils credit as the Canes’ two-man advantage looked timid and didn’t get a shot off. With the ensuing normal 5-on-4 powerplay, the Canes were trying to be too perfect with passes only on the perimeter of the umbrella. Anytime there was an attempt for a pass to the Canes in the dirty area, the Devils sent the puck down to Mrazek.
With just a few seconds left, Teuvo Teravainen passed over to Sebastian Aho on the near side. Seabass passed up to Justin Faulk on the right point and Faulk looked as if he had enough of this perimeter passing and sent a laser to the far upper corner for his 10th of the season adding to his franchise record of points for a defenseman, 256 points. Seabass has been snake bit: for the past 14 games, he’s gone without a goal. With Andrei Svechnikov in the box for a very controversial tripping call that had Roddy turning all sorts of colors while telling he officials he disagreed with the call, Seabass had a golden opportunity to break his scoring drought with a lone breakaway. Many goalies know Seabass’ patented move is to fake left-right then slide it five hole but this time he faked left-right but slid to Schneider’s right just inches away from the open net on that side.
Niederreiter Nails It, Let The Playoffs Begin
The Canes entered the third with the 2-1 lead and most fans knew the Capitals were up 2-1 over Les Habs so the arena was loud from the drop of the puck for the period. While the Canes could win with the score as it was, the Devils weren’t going down easy. They already out-shot the Canes in the first two periods and turned up the heat in a big way in the third. The Devils were the disciplined team, not taking a penalty in the last two periods and their powerplay passing and shooting was far better than the Canes.
Difference maker was Mrazek, as he stopped everything thrown at him and bailed out a teammate after they got beat. Mrazek is an excitable player and gives fist pumps after a great save or even a goal by a teammate. The Devils were in the Canes’ end with less than five minutes to go when Willie stole the puck along the far boards passing to an open Brett Pesce just inside the Canes’ blue line. Pesce carried the puck into the neutral zone then made a perfect lead pass to Nino Niederreiter just above the Devils’ blue line.
El Nino lowered his left shoulder using his strength and speed got around his defender going in on Schneider and with Schneider sliding right out the shot top shelf on the open side with the bench and Caniacs were in the playoffs, hugs, high fives and cheers were everywhere. With the seconds ticking down to 0, the euphoria erupted knowing the playoff drought was over. The Canes all lined up on the blue line, which may have been a few moments earlier but Hamilton was skating around with his arms up encouraging the crowd for more.
First round will most likely be against the Capitals which probably pleases Willie. They were the last team he played for before returning home to the Canes and as he said in September, getting into the playoffs if just a process to winning the Stanley Cup. The process includes beating every team you face, so bring ‘em on.