TAMPA – Carolina center Jordan Staal deflected Sebastian Aho’s one-timer into the net from the inner half of the left circle as the Carolina Hurricanes fought off the Tampa Bay Lightning, 3-2, in overtime at Amalie Arena on Thursday night to slice the Lightning lead in the series to 2-1.
“Big man at the hoop,” said Aho. “That’s what you need.”
The game winning goal came at 6:00 into overtime as Staal was on the left side of the crease with the deflection and the game winner on Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy’s short side.
Aho finished with a goal and two assists on the evening as it was the Hurricanes’ power play that kept them in the series after they gave up two earlier power play markers to the Lightning, who fought back from a 2-0 deficit.
“Eventually those penalties usually even out,” said Aho. “We were able to score a goal on our power play, which is always huge. We felt pretty confident we could kill that penalty, do our job and start playing our game.”
Aho was referring to a tripping penalty on Dougie Hamilton at 18:52 in the third period. Carolina had to kill the last 52 seconds of that one to start the overtime.
Then, Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov was flagged for holding Martin Necas’ stick at 4:16 of the extra session and that’s where the Carolina power play was able to win the game.
The Lightning saw an opportunity lost, but there was no stress level among players or coach Jon Cooper after the game. The consensus was that they liked the way the competed and we able to execute their game plan to put themselves in position to win.
“We were pushing the play,” said defenseman Victor Hedman. “I think we were a lot better offensively and winning our battles. We were taking the puck to the net and creating some havoc. It’s a lot of things we did well tonight. We will come in with the same mentality and try to win the next game.”
Aho was hit with a cross-check at 8:01 and it set up Brayden Point’s sixth goal of the playoffs as he sat in the middle of the power play and took a pass inside from Nikita Kucherov at 8:57. The scoring play was started off of a pin-point cross-ice pass from Steven Stamkos.
Then at 16:18 of the second period, Kucherov blasted a shot off of Carolina goalie Petr Mrazek and regained the puck deep on the left side. He then flipped a pass to Alex Killorn, who also netted his sixth goal of the playoffs at tied the game at 2-2 at 16:18.
“They have adjusted; they’re moving pucks,” said Cooper. “We know what we can expect now and you can see how we deal with it. Thats why the P.P. has been great in the playoffs so far and even at the end, you couldn’t ask for better looks, they just didn’t go in the net.”
Point noted that the execution and potential was there for the Lightning as they literally couldn’t get the puck to fall their way.
“We played a good game,” said Point. “I think it might be different if we felt like we hadn’t played a good game and they won. There’s things you can clean up and things you can watch so hopefully we do better next game.”
The Hurricanes were extra aggressive in taking a quick 2-0 lead in the second period when defenseman Brett Pesce fired a shot from just left of the right face-off circle and the puck found the back of the net for a 1-0 lead at 5:15. He placed the shot high over Vasilevskiy’s outstretched stick which was good for his second goal of the playoffs.
Andrei Svechnikov set him up off the right side as he threw the puck behind the point of attack to Pesce who nailed the one-timer. Sebastian Aho had the secondary helper on the score which equated to his third assist of the playoffs.
Then at 7:40, it didn’t take Aho long to find the goal as he skated ahead of Kucherov toward the net and Teuvo Teraveinan found him with a pass and Aho went to the five-hole on Vasilevskiy with his sixth goal of the playoffs and a 2-0 Hurricanes lead.
Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour turned to Mrazek in goal for Game 3 as a change up to Alex Nedeljkovic and he responded in stopping all 24 pucks fired at his at even strength but gave up 2-of-3 on the power play.
“I had no doubt in my mind that he was going to be good tonight,” said Aho. “He was himself out there. He made huge saves and gave us a chance to win a hockey game.”
The Lightning are unshaken and still confident going to Saturday’s Game 4 at 4 p.m. ET in Tampa Bay. Cooper always sees imperial effort out of his squad and felt that his team was on point with everything that they were asked to do throughout Thursday’s game.
“I think our team has gotten better every single game and that is what i like so if we keep limiting the chances they get and you like where we are going and our play is getting better,” Cooper explained. “You can’t hang you head on these. You have got to turn the page and move on in these.”