After the Carolina Hurricanes found out earlier in the day they would have a surprise opponent on Saturday, they played a whale of a game Friday night.
Sporting their reverse retros Friday night — an homage to the Hartford Whalers’ home sweaters worn during their 1979 inaugural NHL season — Carolina won 5-3 over Chicago in what would have been the start of a back-to-back against the Blackhawks.
Nino Niederreiter scored two goals in a three-point night and goalie James Reimer improved to 8-1-0 as Carolina bounced back from an overtime loss to the Florida Panthers on Wednesday.
“The confidence is flowing with Nino,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said of the Swiss right winger, who has nine goals in 15 games.
On Friday morning, the NHL flipped the script on Carolina’s scheduled Saturday contest against the Blackhawks, announcing that the Tampa Bay Lightning would instead play the Hurricanes for the second time this season in Raleigh, N.C. The meeting was originally scheduled for March 28, but with Tampa Bay’s game in Dallas postponed due to severe weather, the league shuffled the schedule.
On Wednesday, the Hurricanes lost at home for the first time this season, a 4-3 OT decision to the Central Division-leading Panthers. Two nights earlier, Florida also dealt Tampa Bay its first home loss of the season, 6-4.
Tampa Bay’s next scheduled game, due to be played in Dallas on Thursday, was postponed, as was Saturday’s, and the NHL altered the schedule to send the Lightning to North Carolina, which itself had storm issues Thursday.
“It’s good,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said Friday morning. “We found out last night. We have contingency plans for this. It doesn’t really matter who you’re playing. The toughest part was having our airline on call for the last 48 or 72 hours. We’re off to Carolina.”
The Lightning will now play four consecutive games against the Hurricanes — fresh off playing the Panthers three straight.
“It’s a playoff-series type season,” Cooper said.
The first two Hurricanes-Lightning games are now scheduled for Saturday and Monday in Raleigh, followed by a back-to-back Wednesday and Thursday in Tampa.
Despite losing to Florida, Tampa Bay had some good news in defeat. Steven Stamkos returned to the lineup after a two-game absence caused by a COVID-19 false positive test, and he netted his team-leading eighth goal.
In the absence of Anthony Cirelli (upper body), Tampa Bay’s Tyler Johnson has slid over into his former position at center and responded with three goals in the past two games.
Against the Lightning on Jan. 28, Carolina earned a 1-0 victory behind Petr Mrazek’s 32-save shutout and Martin Necas’ overtime winner. The Hurricanes — who were without five starters — were playing for the first time in 10 days after COVID-19 protocols were enacted.
–Field Level Media