1. Au Revoir, 2019
What a year 2019 was for the Hurricanes.
It began in January with an improbable run in the second half of the 2018-19 season, culminating in the team's first playoff berth in 10 years and continuing into May with a run to the Eastern Conference Final.
Even with a collection of new faces and a summer away, the Canes have picked up where they left off. They currently occupy the first wild card playoff spot in the Eastern Conference through 40 games.
Video: MTL@CAR: Hurricanes celebrate NYE with Storm Surge
In total during 2019, the Hurricanes posted a 54-26-4 record and 112 points, the second-most wins and tied for the third-most points of any NHL team in the calendar year. It was a franchise best calendar year, and 2020 will hopefully be more of the same.
"We're just taking it a day at a time, understanding what we need to do to win. It's a very fine line," Haula said. "When we bring it, we're a tough team to beat."
Erik Haula's second-period marker, his 11th goal of the season, held up as the game-winner in the 3-1 final.
The scoring sequence began with Teuvo Teravainen skating into the zone and cutting across at the blue line to bide time while friends to pass to skated into the frame. Teravainen stickhandled before laying the puck down low to Brett Pesce. Pesce then spun a backhand pass to the front of the net, where Haula was stationed all alone for the easy tap in.
Video: MTL@CAR: Haula finishes Pesce's sweet feed down low
"That was a great play," Haula said. "It started with Turbo. Great play at the blue line. Good patience waiting for guys to come. That's what led to me being so open."
Though he's only played in 21 games this season, Haula ranks fourth on the team in goals (11).
"He's done an incredible job, really, all year. It's just unfortunate he had to miss about a month there. He solidifies our lineup," head coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "That line has been really effective all year and lately now that he's back."
3. Special Teams Makes A Difference
Hurricanes power play: 1-for-2. Hurricanes penalty kill: 3-for-3.
"That was the difference," Brind'Amour said.
Sebastian Aho had the power play goal, scored just 1:55 into the game. Haula, from below the goal line, spun to the front of the net, a power move from a powerful net-front presence. Aho crashed the net and batted the rebound out of mid-air. A quick review confirmed that Aho's stick was below the crossbar, and the Canes had an early 1-0 lead.
Video: MTL@CAR: Aho shows off hand-eye for PPG, early lead
The penalty kill had struggled as of late. Six straight games in which the Canes had given up a power play goal, just 14-for-24 on the man disadvantage.
A clean 3-for-3 sheet - and just one shot on goal against - is a good way to end the year, though.
"It was really good tonight," Teravainen said. "I think we're learning from the mistakes. It was a way better effort tonight."
"We all take pride in our kill, so it's nice to get back on track," Pesce said.
4. A Critical Challenge
Chalk one up for the coach's challenge.
Montreal had seemingly tied the score at two with 8:08 left in regulation after Ryan Poehling chipped in a rebound in the slot. It was a called a good goal on the ice, but Petr Mrazek pled his case to the officials and then the Canes' bench.
It was a critical challenge in a precarious situation, too. If successful, the Canes would preserve their 2-1 lead. If unsuccessful - which seems to be the case more often than not with the gray area that is goaltender interference - the score would be 2-2, and the Canadiens would have a power play.
But, when there is an opportunity to take a goal off the board, you take it, and the Canes were pretty confident with their argument.
Video: Postgame Quotes: Brett Pesce
"To me, it was clear that we didn't push him in. That was the whole key on it. Petr can't technically get out because the guy's in the crease. If we're pushing him in, that's a different story. But it was clear, Pesce was actually trying to hold him back," Brind'Amour explained. "I think that's the right call. Their guy certainly didn't slow down. He went right into the net."
The officials agreed, ruling that Phillip Danault made contact with Mrazek, impairing his ability to play his position in the crease.
"He was holding my stick and kind of just pushing me in," Pesce said. "I was hoping they would overturn it."
"That's a game-changing call," Teravainen said. "It's pretty good that I'm not the one making those calls. It's a lot of pressure on someone."
5. Make Some Noise!
A sellout crowd of 18,680 enjoyed the Hurricanes' 3-1 win on New Year's Eve. It was the team's second consecutive sellout and fifth of the season. Through 18 home games, the Canes are average 16,128 fans per game, an increase of 25.6% over their average through 18 home games just a season ago.
"Our crowd is great," Brind'Amour said. "It was an exciting game. This is a great place to play. The guys love it. I think that relationship with our fans and the players is pretty unique and special."
Video: Postgame Quotes: Sebastian Aho
"It's awesome. They're unbelievable every night," Pesce said. "We take pride in our crowd. I'm thankful they're there."
Plenty more to come, too. The Canes' season-long, seven-game homestand rolls on in January, a month in which the team will play nine of 11 games at PNC Arena.
"It's a good homestand if you make it right," Brind'Amour said. "It's important for us to get off to a good start and maintain it here this month."
Happy New Year! The Canes are back in 2020, hosting the Washington Capitals (again) on Friday night.
"We know this is a huge month for us," Pesce said. "We have a lot of home games, and we know what we have to do. We're going to take it one game at a time."