It’s hard to believe the Carolina Hurricanes didn’t want this.
As one of two teams that rallied against the postseason format for the re-jigged 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs in a vote conducted only after learning that they would collide with the New York Rangers in the qualification round, it appeared the Hurricanes were a touch reluctant to put their season on the line in a do-or-die series against a streaking team that beat them in all four meetings this year.
Fast forward a few months since they were overruled, and now just barely 48 hours into the NHL’s official restart, the Hurricanes appear to be the standard in which all teams will be measured against in this unprecedented tournament, while without question being a class above the division rival that gave them fits in the regular season.
It was the same winning formula again for the Hurricanes in Monday’s matinee victory over the Rangers. They struck early, remained physical and supremely organized throughout, and suppressed shots brilliantly in support of Petr Mrazek in a 4-1 victory over the Blueshirts, who have failed to carry over any of the momentum they were building before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the NHL to shut is doors.
If we’re being honest, though, it’s been about more than just one team’s superiority over another through two games. Because as most teams in this re-start have shown issues associated with more than four months spent away from the rink, the Hurricanes have displayed none of it, appearing to be a cut above everyone else, at least at this early stage.
The ability to flip the switch seemed imperative for those needing to push through the play-in round to reach the traditional four-round phase of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. And since Brady Skjei obliterated Jesper Fast 28 seconds into Game 1, and grizzled playoff veteran Justin Williams followed that up with a fight, the Hurricanes settled firmly into the position most teams seem to be trying to manufacture for themselves.
In a mid-summer form that looks more like mid-season, there have been the typical Hurricanes hallmarks. They’ve run up massive differential advantages in all the important underlying numbers, achieving close to 56 percent possession through the first 80-plus even-strength minutes, while out-scoring the Rangers under that condition 5-1.
But what we’re also seeing beyond that normally favourable data is something that might be considered somewhat atypical for the Hurricanes. Through two games the club’s top-end talent, which is commonly overlooked, has completely run their counterparts out of the building.
While Hart Trophy candidate Artemi Panarin did score in the loss, the most dominant offensive force in Game 2 was unquestionably the Hurricanes’ Andrei Svechnikov.
With goals in all three periods, Svechnikov recorded the first hat trick in Hurricanes franchise history, and just the eighth postseason hat trick in NHL history from a player under the age of 21.
With assists on each of Svechnikov’s goals, as well as a tally of his own in Game 1, the Hurricanes’ best forward, Sebastian Aho, has also separated himself in the early going as well.
When Svechnikov and Aho are operating at a different level, and from shift to shift the Hurricanes continue to own the better of it, they present an immense challenge for any team, and one that seems far too great for the Rangers to overcome.
It’s been said in the past that if the game was played on a spreadsheet that it would always favour the Hurricanes.
So maybe here, inside an empty arena with controlled conditions, it’s only natural that it favours them, too.
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