Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Toronto Maple Leafs 4 at Carolina Hurricanes 0 - February 19, 2017


The whole reason I was in Raleigh this weekend was to see the Maple Leafs visiting PNC Arena. The Leafs make two trips here, with the second on March 11th. By then, however, college basketball is into the conference tournament phase, and the ACC is ironically playing theirs at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. So I chose this past weekend as I was able to see two college hoops games and the first weekend of college baseball.

This was my third visit to PNC Arena, so no need to review it yet again, other than to mention that there is a free parking spot at the southeast corner of Trinity and Youth Center Drive, just across the street from the NC State football stadium (thanks to a Twitter follower for the tip). The walk is no more than 5 minutes and given that parking in stadium lots is $15, a no-brainer.



A few pictures to set the mood. Notice all those empty seats?



The Hurricanes are struggling on the ice and at the gate (no doubt due to inflated prices), and tickets were easy to get on the secondary market. We picked up a pair in Row R at the blue line for $70 each (face value $140), and even then I feel like we overpaid. But I wanted to get the best seats and didn’t want to risk scalpers having limited selection. The view is below:



We watched the Leafs warmup with backup keeper Curtis McElhinney preparing for the rare start after the Leafs had played (and lost) the night before against Ottawa.



Leo Komarov was also his usual intense self during the skate.



With the venue perhaps a third full, it was the emptiest I have ever seen an NHL rink during a regular season game. If you want to see NHL hockey on the cheap, this is one place to do it.

The Game

I expected the Leafs to be tired with their fourth game in six nights, and they were thoroughly outplayed in the first period, but McElhinney was superb, making a few point blank stops to keep the game scoreless as the Hurricanes outshot Toronto 15-9.



Just over a minute into the second, Tyler Bozak found James Van Riemsdyk with a beautiful two-line, cross-ice pass, and JVR saucered it to speedy Connor Brown, who had gotten behind the defense and tipped it past Cam Ward for a 1-0 lead. A few minutes later, Jake Gardiner shot the puck along the boards from behind the Leaf net all the way to the Carolina blue line, where rookie sensation Auston Matthews picked it up. He quickly skated in and cut in front of Ward, drawing a penalty but it was never called because Matthews backhanded the puck home as he was falling for one of the best goals of the year. McElhinney continued to frustrate the Canes who had a 31-21 shot advantage after two, but still trailed 2-0. Below is the Leafs shot chart for the period.



Two-goal leads have been the bane of the Leafs this season, but six minutes into the third, Gardiner floated one from the blue line that beat a surprised Ward, and two minutes later Brown scored an almost identical goal to the first, tipping home a JVR past that made it 4-0. Suddenly it looked like a victory was probable, and McElhinney made sure of it, stopping all 37 shots he faced to gain his first shutout as a Maple Leaf and the first Leaf shutout I have ever seen live. Thus making it the best game ever.



Notes

The Leafs are now 14-13-4 in my first visits to road rinks. I have to see Phoenix and Las Vegas next year to complete the league, and then Buffalo, Vancouver, and Detroit to complete all active venues.

Next Up

A period of quiet over the next two months, with just a few weekend jaunts to keep me occupied. I’ll be heading to Princeton to see hockey next weekend, and then Detroit to say goodbye to the Palace and the Joe on the weekend of March 11. Check back for recaps and other topical posts as the baseball season is just around the corner.

Best,

Sean

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