Last-minute goal by Fast gives Hurricanes win in Chicago

Hurricanes forward Jesper Fast watches his game-winning goal go past Blackhawks goaltender Kevin Lankinen with 29 seconds remaining in Carolina’s 4-3 win Thursday in Chicago. (Jeff Haynes / AP Photo)

Jesper Fast’s goal with 29 seconds remaining lifted the Carolina Hurricanes to a 4-3 win Thursday over the Blackhawks in Chicago.

Warren Foegele scored twice on his 25th birthday and Vincent Trocheck had a goal.

Three Thoughts

1. “Oh no, not again” turned into “they did it again!” when the Hurricanes recovered from a demoralizing tying goal by Chicago midway through the third period to score the winner in the final minute.

Like Tuesday’s game in Chicago, Carolina dominated the opening 20 minutes and even entered intermission with a 1-0 lead on Trocheck’s 14th goal of the year — and his first in two games since returning from injury.

Then Foegele got his first of two goals early in the second, and it looked like the Blackhawks would be overmatched in the second of two games in Chicago. Instead, they rallied again, scoring twice in a 10-minute stretch at the end of the second and start of the third to tie the game.

Shortly after Chicago’s second goal by Brandon Hagel, Foegele responded with his second of the night. But Dylan Strome’s redirection at 10:24 of the third tied it again at 3-3.

After Reimer made a key save on Dominik Kubalik in the final minute of regulation, Fast scored on the rebound with just under 29 seconds left to give Carolina two points.

“You have to drive the net, get in the greasy areas, which Fast did,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said, “and we got rewarded for it.”

2. Petr Mrazek stopped 42 of 44 shots in his conditioning start with the AHL’s Chicago Wolves, a 5-2 win. Mrazek last played Jan. 30 against Dallas in Raleigh, getting hurt just 2:47 into the game when teammate Max McCormick collided with him in the Carolina net. Mrazek was 2-1-0 with a microscopic 0.99 goals-against average, .955 save percentage and two shutouts when he sidelined in his fourth start of the season.

He is flying back to Raleigh with the Hurricanes on Thursday night, and one would think he’s very close to returning — perhaps even as soon as Carolina’s back-to-back set with the Stars on Saturday and Sunday. That means a decision will need to be made, and James Reimer (22 saves) has been outplayed Alex Nedeljkovic despite the former’s 14-4-1 overall record.

Reimer has allowed three or more goals in 12 of his 19 starts and looked shaky again Thursday, though he did make the big save on Kubalik just 12 seconds before Fast’s go-ahead goal.

Nedeljkovic, meanwhile, was named NHL Rookie of the Month for March and has allowed two goals or fewer in eight of his 13 starts, including posting two shutouts. Overall, he is 8-3-2 with a .927 save percentage and 2.05 goals-against average.

The decision seems pretty easy.

Reimer — like Curtis McElhinney before him — is a steady presence in the Hurricanes locker room, and Carolina would probably like to maintain its goalie depth seeing how it helped them during Mrazek’s injury.

Both Reimer and Nedeljkovic would require waivers to go to the taxi squad and would likely be claimed. Carolina could also use one of the goalies as trade fodder.

My best guess is the Hurricanes take the cap hit and, at least initially, keep all three on the roster once Mrazek is ready to return.

3. It was nice to hear John Forslund calling a Hurricanes game, especially after Tuesday’s NBCSN broadcast was below par. Forslund has agreed to be the Seattle Kraken’s play-by-play voice when the team joins the NHL next season, and his break from the Hurricanes — like radio broadcaster Chuck Kaiton before him — was ugly.

Color guy Pierre McGuire offered up a few awkward moments, and Forslund heaped praise on Ron Francis — his boss again in Seattle — for his part in building Carolina’s roster. But few can call a game like Forslund, and he put aside any animosity he might have toward Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon and again delivered the goods to show why he’s the best play-by-play announcer in the sport.

Number To Know

2 — Goals for Foegele, the second player in Hurricanes franchise history to score twice on his birthday, according to Hockey-Reference.com, earning the “big birthday boy” moniker captain Jordan Staal pinned on him following the win. It still didn’t match his most memorable birthday moment.

“I’m pretty sure I signed my first NHL contract on my birthday, at midnight or so,” he said. “I guess that’s the one that sticks in my head the most.” It was actually announced a day earlier, on March 31, 2017.

Francis is the other to score twice on his birthday, doing it March 1, 1983, on his 20th birthday in a 6-5 home loss to Buffalo.

Foegele is also the 14th player to register two points on his birthday. Francis did it three times — including at age 37 with the Hurricanes; he is both the youngest and oldest player to accomplish it. Eric Staal has the best birthday game in franchise history, a one-goal, three-assist effort Oct. 29, 2005, in a 5-3 win in Pittsburgh on his 21st birthday.

Only five goalies — Mike Liut, Sean Burke, Trevor Kidd (twice), Kevin Weekes and Mrazek — have played on their birthday. Weekes stopped all eight shots he faced in relief of Arturs Irbe to earn a tie in a 6-6 game at Florida on April 4, 2004. Kidd stopped 15 of 16 in Carolina’s 4-1 over the Rangers in Greensboro on March 26, 1998, and Mrazek is the only other goalie to post a win — 5-2 in Raleigh over the Devils on Valentine’s Day 2020.

They Said It

“Pretty much identical. It was just weird, not a lot of happening. … It was not what I expected out of these two games, the style of play, that’s for sure.”

— Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour on what he thought of Thursday’s game after he characterized Tuesday’s as “gross” and “weird.”

Plus

Jesper Fast, Hurricanes forward — Right from puck drop, Fast was winning battles all around the ice, as he has done much of this season. So it only made sense that he’d be the player rewarded in the final minute with the winning goal.

Fast passed to Trocheck in the neutral zone and drove the net, and when Kevin Lankinen (27 saves) kicked the rebound right into the slot, Fast was there to bang it home.

Minus

Haydn Fleury, Hurricanes defenseman — The pairing of Fleury and Jake Bean was pinned in the Chicago end much of the night, and Fleury managed just 27.78% possession at even strength. He was on the ice for the Blackhawks’ first and third goals, and he is still without a point in 31 games this season.