It’s just February for NHL’s Hurricanes and Lightning, but storm clouds are gathering

Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak, of Slovakia, falls into the bench area as center Steven Stamkos (91) and Carolina Hurricanes right wing Jesper Fast (71), of Sweden, skate during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak, of Slovakia, falls into the bench space as middle Steven Stamkos (91) and Carolina Hurricanes proper wing Jesper Fast (71), of Sweden, skate in the course of the second interval of an NHL hockey sport in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

It appeared like a simulacrum of a playoff collection on paper and it’s turning out to be one on the ice. If the Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning are the 2 greatest groups within the division, it’s going to take greater than 4 video games to determine which one really has the sting.

The Hurricanes dominated the primary sport of this four-game set Saturday, and the Lightning answered again proper off the hop Monday night time, just as you’d count on within the postseason, exactly the form of back-and-forth that characterizes and so usually defines playoff collection between two good groups.

That all of it got here all the way down to a crucial third-period miscue to provide the Lightning a 4-2 win solely underlines how intently separated these groups are and will proceed to be the remainder of the way in which, by no means thoughts that whereas they had been arbitrating issues in Raleigh, the Florida Panthers had been busy claiming first place within the Central Division for their very own with a 29-shot second interval towards the Dallas Stars.

These issues will work themselves out but. That it’s nonetheless February issues not; despite the fact that the schedule was reconfigured to throw these groups collectively for an ersatz four-game set — the collection heads to Tampa for Games 3 and 4 on Wednesday and Thursday — everybody’s going to see quite a lot of one another this season, now and within the playoffs, and that is just the primary time by means of. If it’s feisty now, it’s all just the start.

“We want to show what we’ve got,” stated Hurricanes defenseman Jake Bean, who has saved his spot within the lineup with some sturdy play. “We know the way we have to play on a night-in, night-out basis and we have a chance to do that now.”

Things did get a bit of feisty Monday, if not, say, truculent, but there was the form of unwise ambition usually generated by playoff atmospheres. Erik Cernak’s eyes acquired huge as he lined up a giant hit on Jesper Fast in entrance of the Hurricanes’ bench, but Fast braced himself and redirected Cernak over the boards and into the laps of his opponents.

Warren Foegele carried on a operating discourse with a number of Tampa Bay gamers within the latter phases of the sport, a dialogue that could possibly be resumed within the subsequent installment, once more the form of factor extra usually seen in spring than winter.

The Lightning was soundly outplayed in Saturday’s 4-0 Alex Nedeljkovic shutout and introduced the power to reply Monday but nonetheless discovered themselves a aim behind on the first intermission because of some high quality particular groups on the Hurricanes’ half. They killed a pair of penalties earlier than getting the primary of Jesper Fast’s two targets seconds after a Tampa Bay penalty expired.

Fast acquired that one by tucking away a rebound, and he acquired his second the identical means on an influence play late within the second interval to tie the rating 2-2. The Hurricanes wanted that one after the Lightning capitalized on their dominance early within the second interval to attain a pair of targets from virtually the identical spot — Stephen Stamkos and Victor Hedman from the left circle — but the tide evened and it was nonetheless anybody’s sport within the third regardless of the way in which it began.

“That’s exactly what we said was going to happen, thought was going to happen, prepared for it,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour stated. “But obviously we weren’t ready for it from the start.”

It got here down, because it so usually does, to a single miscue. Brady Skjei’s turnover in his personal zone ended up in his personal web moments later, off his personal skate no much less as Ondrej Palat whacked away on the puck throughout a scramble in entrance.

The empty-netter was sufficient at hand the Hurricanes their first regulation loss in two weeks. The alternative to avenge the defeat will come shortly, because it did for the Lightning on Monday. It’s not a playoff collection, it just feels that means. Whether it’s a preview of the true factor, time will inform.

Sports columnist Luke DeCock has coated 4 Final Fours, the Summer Olympics, the Super Bowl and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup. He joined The News & Observer in 2000 to cowl the Hurricanes and the NHL earlier than turning into a columnist in 2008. A local of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and has gained a number of nationwide and state awards for his columns and function writing whereas twice being named North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year.

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