Curtis McElhinney was a 20-game winner for the Carolina Hurricanes last season. On Sunday, the veteran goalie wanted to hand them their first loss of this season.
But the Canes wouldn’t oblige. Not this group. Jaccob Slavin’s goal at 1:53 of overtime gave the Canes, and goalie Petr Mrazek, a 4-3 comeback win over Tampa Bay and McElhinney.
For the third consecutive game, the Canes trailed in the third period. For the third game in a row, they tied the score, this time on Dougie Hamilton’s power-play strike that made it a 3-3 game. For a third straight game, it went to overtime.
The Canes went on a power play with 44.7 seconds left in regulation when Nino Niederreiter drew an interference penalty from Tampa Bay’s Kevin Shattenkirk. The power-play time extended into overtime, with the Canes having a four-on-three advantage, but Tampa Bay killed it off.
It was soon back to three-on-three, and Slavin beat McElhinney, who signed as a free agent with the Lightning in July after spending a memorable 2018-19 season with the Canes. Jordan Staal first separated the Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov from the puck along the boards, then passed to Slavin on a two-on-one -- Victor Hedman the defender -- for the winner.
“We’ve got a resilient group in here,” Slavin said. “We’ve got to learn not to put ourselves in those holes and, obviously, play a stronger first two periods so we don’t have to rely on that third period and always be coming from behind. But it’s definitely a confidence-builder for the group, and we hope we can continue on that path.”
Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said the Canes could not have made the playoffs last season without McElhinney, claimed off waivers by Carolina just before the season began after Scott Darling was injured.
“He came at the right time (and) was a huge part of it,” Brind’Amour said before the game, adding, “Hopefully, he’ll have one of the only bad games I’ve seen him play.”
McElhinney, making his first start for Tampa Bay, was terrific in the first period for the Lightning (1-1-1), which led 3-1. But Tampa Bay did not have a shot on goal in the second period, just two in the third and none in the OT, being outshot 44-13 in the game by the Canes.
“They’re playing good hockey,” McElhinney said. “I mean, they worked tonight, and they earned that game. They should be the team that’s coming away with the two points.
”I think we had some spurts about five to seven minutes for a couple periods that were good, but for the most part it just seemed to be like we were overwhelmed with Carolina’s offense and the way they just kind of hound you with the puck.”
The Canes’ schedule, from the start, was demanding: Montreal, at Washington, Tampa Bay. That meant facing Habs goalie Carey Price in the opener, taking on the Capitals in their home opener, then returning to Raleigh to take on arguably the best team in hockey.
But the Canes rallied and beat Montreal in a shootout, Hamilton with the only shootout goal. They trailed the Caps 2-0 on Saturday but tied the score in the third on goals by Haula and Slavin and won in overtime on Jake Gardiner’s goal. Now they’re 3-0.
“It shows that we believe in each other already, which is great, and I think they understand how to play to be successful,” Brind’Amour said.
Tyler Johnson, Shattenkirk and Steven Stamkos scored for the Lightning in the first period as Tampa Bay took a 3-1 lead. But Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper: “Our game went east-west instead of north-south.”
Brett Pesce scored for the Canes early in the first period on a shot that hit a Tampa Bay defender, and Erik Haula — that man again — scored on a second-period power play.
Haula now has three goals in his first three games with the Hurricanes. He’s the sixth player in franchise history to score in each of his first three games and first since Eric Staal in 2005-06.
The Canes killed off all six penalties in the win over the Caps. But Shattenkirk winged a shot through traffic that got past Mrazek in the first.
Pesce scored 1:14 into the game but McElhinney was rock solid the rest of the period, turning back tough shots by Warren Foegele, Niederreiter and Haula in the second. But the Canes broke through on a power play as Haula again got in front of the crease, banging in the rebound of a Hamilton shot.
Anyone looking at the analytics — but not the score — would have been surprised after the first and second periods. Consider that the Canes had 36 total shot attempts to Tampa Bay’s 18 in the first, and 16 scoring chances to the Lightning’s eight. The Canes then outshot Tampa Bay 17-0 in the second period, yet trailed 3-2.
It was the first time the Canes had held a team without a shot in the period since February 2004, in a game against Colorado.
Both teams were playing their third game in four days and completing a back-to-back. Tampa Bay had split its first two games, both against the Florida Panthers, losing 4-3 on Saturday.