Lucky bounces these were not. Andrei Svechnikov scored three capital-G GOALS Monday afternoon in the Carolina Hurricanes' 4-1 victory over the New York Rangers in Game 2 of their qualifying-round series.
The first: a short-side snipe over goalie Henrik Lundqvist's right shoulder.
The second: a knuckleballing one-timer just under the crossbar.
The third: burying a precision pass from Sebastian Aho into a yawning cage.
The hat trick was the first of Svechnikov's career and the first in Hartford Whalers/Carolina Hurricanes playoff history, a stretch spanning 143 games and 14 previous post-season appearances. Svechnikov scored on all three of his shots and added six hits in a physically dominating performance.
It's not that seeing a player of his caliber fill the net comes as a staggering surprise. As Canes coach Rod Brind'Amour said after the game via Zoom conference call, if you told him someone was going to get a hat trick that day, Svechnikov would've been a good guess. He was tremendous in his sophomore season, which paused shortly before his 20th birthday in March. He improved on his rookie totals with 24 goals and 61 points in 68 games. Among 334 forwards who logged at least 500 minutes at 5-on-5 this season, Svechnikov sat 85th in goals per 60, 37th in assists per 60, 42nd in points per 60 and 23rd in expected goals per 60. He was even 71st in hits per 60. None of those numbers are overwhelmingly great, but they all put him in the first-line echelon of the league and, again, he just turned 20. Still, even with expectations high for him entering the post-season, the hat trick in Game 2 was a "whoa" moment. Svechnikov showed an ability to take over a playoff game.
"You just see him come into training camp last year, and he’s 18 years old and he looks like he’s 24," said Hurricanes right winger Jordan Martinook, who scored Carolina's other goal in Game 2. "He’s built like an ox. He can skate and shoot and does everything fast and thinks the game well. I’m pumpin’ his tires pretty good right now. But yeah, he’s special. It’s fun to watch him, and it’ll be fun to watch him in the next couple months here."
Svechnikov is this good this young largely because of that ox-like build. Already 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds, he has room to fill out more, and he already enjoys using his strength to create chances.
"I think I’m playing the hard game, and that’s why I’m scoring goals," Svechnikov said. "I’m going to hit and go in the offensive zone, get in and try and shoot on the net. I love that style of play.”
Few players in NHL history embody the commitment to getting your body in peak condition like Svechnikov's coach, Rod Brind'Amour, did during his NHL career. So when 'Rod the Bod' praises your dedication, it really means something.
"It’s his first hat trick, but I think he’ll get a few more before his time’s over in his career," Brind'Amour said. "He’s a gamer, too. He’s one of those players in the break that worked on his game and wanted to get better, and I think you’re seeing that.”
So while any playoff hat trick is a special occasion that requires at least a little bit of luck, Svechnikov earned his day as much as a player can. After all, he was named the team's 2019-20 recipient of the Steve Chiasson Award for " the Hurricanes player that best exemplifies determination and dedication while proving to be an inspiration to his teammates through his performance and approach to the game."
A hat trick, then, may not be a single blip in a forgettable post-season. It's possible we're seeing a big, strong Svechnikov discover his version of 'God Mode,' and that's terrifying news for the New York Rangers, down 2-0 in a best-of-five, still waiting on young goaltender Igor Shesterkin to get a clean bill of health. With Svechnikov slowly rising up to match the elite-level standard of his center Aho, the Canes are a team with real star power at the forward position now. Their plucky, hardworking coach instills a two-way mentality, and that has helped Carolina badly outchance the Rangers on the forecheck so far in this series, but the Canes forwards have the skill to finish those chances as well.
Now factor in how good the team has looked despite still missing Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce from its blueline, and the Canes are much more than a qualifying-round squad preparing to get crushed in the Round of 16. Quite the contrary. Once Hamilton returns – which could be imminent – Carolina will boast the deepest, most diverse defense corps among the 24 teams in the tournament, even without Pesce. And so far, Petr Mrazek looks steady in net. He said Monday he saw the puck well, and the team in front of him has done a great job limiting chances. At 5-on-5, the Hurricanes have outshot the Rangers 48-34, with a 43-34 edge in scoring chances and an 18-9 advantage in high-danger chances.
So with an emerging star sniper operating at a superstar level, and a team playing great defensive hockey without its best defenseman, and a goalie who seems to have his confidence at the moment…the Canes look like a true Stanley Cup contender.
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