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Trades give Hurricanes 'bolt of life'

Cotsonika: Adding Trocheck, Skjei, Vatanen, play of emergency goalie energize Carolina

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

RALEIGH, N.C. -- When David Ayres skated into the crease as the emergency backup goalie Saturday, it was more than a feel-good story for the Carolina Hurricanes. 

"It was almost, like, a turning point in our season," defenseman Jake Gardiner said.

It wasn't just that Ayres, a 42-year-old kidney transplant survivor, stopped eight of 10 shots in a 6-3 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena, becoming the oldest goalie to win his NHL debut and the first emergency backup to win an NHL game.

 

[RELATED: 2019-20 NHL Trade Tracker | Hurricanes' haul one of biggest storylines of Trade Deadline]

 

It was how the Hurricanes played in front of him and what they did at the NHL Trade Deadline on Monday, adding forward Vincent Trocheck and defensemen Brady Skjei and Sami Vantanen. 

"We know how we're capable of playing," Gardiner said. "We played against a very, very skilled team and essentially dominated them. So now just picking up these three guys, it's going to be good."

The Hurricanes (35-22-4) are two points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference and will have Trocheck and Skjei in the lineup against the Dallas Stars at PNC Arena on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; FS-CR, FS-SW, NHL.TV). 

"It's certainly not guaranteeing anything," coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "But it gives a message that we're all in here and we've got to keep pushing forward."

Video: Hurricanes acquire Trocheck, Vatanen, and Skjei

Think back to where Carolina was during the game in Toronto on Saturday: on the edge of the playoff picture, 5-4-1 in the past 10 games and without defensemen Dougie Hamilton (leg) and Brett Pesce (shoulder) because of injuries.

Goalies James Reimer (lower body) and Petr Mrazek (head) left with injuries, and in came Ayres with the Hurricanes holding a 4-1 lead in the second period. Ayres promptly allowed two goals on two shots. The lead was down to 4-3 entering the third.

The Hurricanes could have crumbled and let the game slip away. They had an easy excuse. But they played for Ayres and each other, outplaying the Maple Leafs, writing a fairy tale and securing an important two points.

"I'm sure 98 percent of people thought we were going to lose that game based off of the circumstances," Gardiner said. "The fact that we came together and played like we did is obviously a good sign."

Video: Hurricanes acquire Trocheck from Panthers

Brind'Amour said the Hurricanes proved to themselves how they could buckle down.

"If we can do it with a guy coming off an emergency basis, then there's certainly no reason why you shouldn't be able to play that way every night," Brind'Amour said. "And I get it. There's a lot of emotion involved, and it's hard to duplicate that. But you certainly understand the blueprint, anyway."

Especially now. Brind'Amour said the trades sent a "bolt of life" into the locker room.

Vantanen is a question mark. He's dealing with a foot injury and won't be ready to play until early March, and he's a pending unrestricted free agent. But he should provide skill and depth down the stretch.

Trocheck and Skjei should be key pieces not only for the stretch run but for years to come.

Video: NHL Tonight breaks down the Skjei trade

As recently as 2017-18, Trocheck had 75 points (31 goals, 44 assists) in 82 games for the Florida Panthers. He has battled injuries the past two seasons, but he's healthy and signed for two more seasons.

Even though he flew across the country and arrived in Carolina late Monday, he was up before his alarm Tuesday morning. He made the Stanley Cup Playoffs once the past six seasons in Florida. The Hurricanes made the Eastern Conference Final last season and are going for it again.

"They definitely have the makeup to be a great playoff team," Trocheck said. "I'm just really excited to be a part of it."

Skjei fills a hole in the top four in the short term and adds another solid defenseman in the long term. He's signed for four more seasons.

"I know what a strong forechecking team this is playing against them for so many years," said Skjei, who spent the past five seasons with the New York Rangers. "I just want to add some skating and some speed myself.

"I'm just excited to get going. With the moves they made [Monday], you can tell they're adding some pieces. The playoffs are the best time of the year. I've been able to play in them twice, and there's nothing better. So I can't wait to make a push and get back and win some games."

Ayres was a great story. From owner Tom Dundon to general manager Don Waddell on down, the Hurricanes hope it was just the beginning.

"The fan base should be really excited about what we did," Brind'Amour said. "Obviously, we had two huge injuries on the back end -- I mean, arguably two of the better defensemen in the League out of your lineup. That's tough to replace. So give Tom a lot of credit and Don for going out there and trying to address that. That's huge for us as a group and certainly as a fan base that we're doing everything we can to make this team better and get in the playoffs."

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