Petr Mrazek got the Carolina Hurricanes off to a strong start in net for the NHL’s return to play, only to see James Reimer turn in an even better performance when it was his turn.
And that has the Hurricanes moving on in the expanded Stanley Cup playoffs with confidence in their goaltending after some question as to who might give them their best chance to win.
For this week, at least, the answer seems to be: either one.
“We knew going in that this was the plan,” coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “Both guys were dialed in right from the start of training camp. ... That was an incredible performance, really all three games by our goalies. Happy for the group, but happy for those two guys because they deserve it.”
Reimer helped the Hurricanes close out a three-game sweep of the New York Rangers in a qualifier series Tuesday night, finishing with 37 saves – including some big ones during a wild second-period sequence – during the 4-1 win in Toronto. Mrazek allowed three goals in two prior games against one of the NHL’s best offensive teams in the regular season.
The play of Mrazek and Reimer was the easiest turnaround for the Hurricanes after being swept by the Rangers in four regular-season meetings. The two allowed 15 goals with an .852 save percentage while the Rangers had the clear advantage with veteran Henrik Lundqvist and rookie Igor Shesterkin.
Brind’Amour declined to publicly name a starter ahead of the postseason series, though he had talked about both Mrazek and Reimer getting work with both guys needing to be ready for a playoff push following a 4½-month layoff.
The plan worked. Mrazek stopped 47 of 50 shots in Games 1 and 2, including two big glove stops on Mika Zibanejad and Brett Howden in the opening period of Monday’s win. Then, instead of relying on the hot-hand approach, Brind’Amour went with Reimer for the third game in four days.
“It could’ve been easy to say stick with Petr because he was phenomenal (Monday) as well,” Brind’Amour said. “But the wear and tear, I think the right move obviously.”
Reimer made it look like the smart call as he turned away shot after shot with the desperate Rangers carrying the action before the Hurricanes finally took over in the third period.
“Obviously I’ve just been preparing for four months, I think,” said Reimer, who made seven playoff starts with Toronto in 2013 and last played in a postseason game in 2016 with San Jose. “It’s been a long grind, obviously this (coronavirus) isn’t what anybody wanted. I just worked hard and tried to take care of myself and prepare.”
The night included one sequence that had Reimer surviving a withering sequence of shots and loose pucks about two minutes before second intermission.
Reimer first stopped a shot from Brendan Lemieux as he skated in, though he couldn’t control the puck. Carolina defensemen Jaccob Slavin and Sami Vatenen dived into the crease to clog the net during the scramble, with Vatanen stopping a shot with his shoulder as Reimer scrambled to his feet and made an incredible in-close stop on Filip Chytil by laying out and extending his right arm to deflect the puck.
“Reims was standing on his head today and making some unbelievable saves just to keep us in it,” said Warren Foegele, who scored the go-ahead third-period goal.
The Hurricanes, seeded sixth in the Eastern Conference for the restart, have some time off until learning their first-round playoff opponent. They at least won’t have to worry about how things are looking at goaltender in the meantime.
“They gave us a chance to win every night,” said Sebastian Aho, who had a highlight-reel score among two third-period goals Tuesday. “That’s what you need in the playoffs. They made some big-time plays out there. We’re happy to have two hot goalies.”