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The Difference, Part I
It was exactly two years ago to the night that an ecstatic Petr Mrazek, having just seen that the Canes had clinched their first playoff berth in 10 years, sat on the bench in his postgame interview and exclaimed, "We're in! We're in! Yes! Yes! Woo!"
It's only fitting that Mrazek made his return to the crease on the two-year anniversary of that signature moment in Canes history, and again he gave the crowd - this time much smaller at a current-capacity of 4,987 but still rambunctious - something to cheer about.
Mrazek stopped all 28 shots he saw to record his third shutout in his fifth start of the season. Credit the Canes' defense in front of him because he didn't see a ton of shots - he faced just six shots in the first 20 minutes - but he came up big when his team needed him most, especially the stretch when the Canes were hunkered down to protect the one-goal lead.
Video: Mrazek stops all 28 shots in his return to the ice
"He didn't have a lot of work for two [periods], and then when we needed him to make saves in the last five minutes, he made three or four really spectacular [saves]," head coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "He fought through it, and he was good."
Jamie Benn had a couple good looks in particular down the stretch, one through traffic and another as he danced around Jaccob Slavin. Mrazek had the answers for both.
"That's just what Raz does. He's a gamer," Jordan Martinook said. "It was good to see him back in there. The results speak for themselves. He played phenomenal. Big saves when we needed them. A great game by Raz."
As the final horn sounded and the game went final, Mrazek pumped his fist before being mobbed by his teammates. With the win, Mrazek, who was named the game's first star, improved to 3-1-0 on the season with a 0.74 goals-against average and a .968 save percentage.
He's back, all right.
"It felt good to be back. It's been a long journey," he said. "I'm happy that I came back tonight and got the win."
The Difference, Part II
In the first minute of the second period, the Canes caught the Stars on a line change to spring Martinook on a breakaway for the game's first goal.
Off the Stars' weak dump-in attempt, Brett Pesce quickly upped the puck to Vincent Trocheck in the neutral zone. Trocheck drew a defender while Martinook skated into open ice and readied for the pass. Trocheck put the puck right on Martinook's tape, and he picked the corner over Jake Oettinger's blocker side.
Video: DAL@CAR: Martinook wires home a shot in all alone
"I feel like I've been close and kind of fighting it. A little frustrated, I guess," Martinook said. "I've actually got to give some credit to my dad because he just said, 'Quit gripping your stick so tight and have fun.' He's like, 'You've scored goals before. Just go out and shoot.' We'll chalk that up to Sparky Marky for the assist on that one."
Both games in this series with the Stars were physical, grinding, playoff-style hockey games. That's what you get when you match up against last season's Western Conference champions, a team trying to battle its way up the Central Division standings. It's also how even more games are likely to play out down the stretch of the season as playoff races intensify.
"They're a heavy team. They play physically," Martinook said. "There's not a whole lot of room. All around the ice, you're getting challenged. It brings the best out of a lot of guys."
There weren't many prolonged stretches of game action that didn't feature some sort of heavy collision. Trocheck threw his weight around on the forecheck. Brady Skjei lined up Ty Dellandrea in the neutral zone. Blake Comeau caught Steven Lorentz near the same spot. Cedric Paquette was in the mix often, even tossing his gloves off to challenge Comeau after his heavy, but clean hit.
Just how physical were the Canes in this one? They were credited with 54 hits, the most in a single game for the team since Jan. 7, 2011 in Florida (57 hits). Paquette (8), Martinook (7) and Andrei Svechnikov (6) each set season highs in hits.
"I know we didn't get the result last night, but I thought that was just as good a game as this one, as far as the way we played," Brind'Amour said. "That's what we're going to have to do. It gets tough, as we know. Playoff hockey is kind of that way. You've got to grind. That was the feel in these two games."
Minus: McGinn injured
Brock McGinn exited the game in the second period with an upper-body injury. He was fighting some discomfort at the end of a seven-second shift about six minutes into the period, and he came back four minutes later to give it another go but was still visibly in pain. He did not return to the contest after that.
"That one doesn't look good. He's going to get checked out tomorrow. That's one guy I can tell you that if he comes out of the game, he's hurt," Brind'Amour said. "There's nobody I've been around since I've been done playing who's tougher than that kid."
10: With the primary assist on Martinook's goal, Trocheck has now recorded at least a point in each of his last 10 games played (5g, 8a).
9: Nine of the Canes' 18 skaters recorded at least three hits in the game.
6: Mrazek is the sixth goaltender in the NHL's modern era (since 1943-44) to post a shutout in each of his first three wins of a season, according to NHL PR.
Quote of the Night
"They felt like some playoff games. It's a good team over there. … They know how to win and how to get all the way. Playing against them and playing hard like we did, it showed that we've got what it takes." - Vincent Trocheck
The Florida Panthers, who have won six games in a row, come to town for a two-game set on Tuesday and Thursday.