Even amid the madness of the 2020 trade deadline — one of the biggest events on the NHL calendar for fans, players and media alike — there was one story that managed to endure and outshine all the rest: the domination of Zamboni driver-turned-literal-winning-goaltender David Ayres.
While the focus on that 6-3 Hurricanes win over the Maple Leafs — the most recent game for both clubs — was on the undeniably wild story of Ayres being checked into the game and somehow emerging with a win, the real story was the play of the team in front of him.
Ayres checked into the game in the second period with a little over 28 minutes remaining in the tilt. While Toronto put two goals past him early, the ‘Canes defence then stifled their opponents, limiting them to just seven shots and zero goals in the third.
It’s that aspect of the performance that the Hurricanes find more telling. And for one ‘Cane in particular, it’s all the more impressive given his familiarity with the talent sprinkled throughout that Maple Leafs roster.
“It was almost, like, a turning point in our season,” said former Maple Leaf Jake Gardiner, who’s 61 games into his first season with Carolina after leaving Toronto in the off-season, according to NHL.com’s Nicholas J. Cotsonika. With that performance and the team’s trio of deadline pickups in tow, Carolina heads into the home stretch of 2019-20 in good shape, in Gardiner’s eyes.
“We know how we’re capable of playing. We played against a very, very skilled team and essentially dominated them. So now just picking up these three guys, it’s going to be good.”
Hurricanes GM Don Waddell emerged as one of the biggest winners of deadline day, swinging big to bring in talented pivot Vincent Trocheck, along with defenders Brady Skjei and Sami Vatanen — the latter two especially important given the loss of blue line stars Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce.
Even without the moves, though, the ‘Canes dramatic win over the Maple Leafs proved they can step up and grind out a victory even in the most extreme circumstances.
“I’m sure 98 per cent of people thought we were going to lose that game based off of the circumstances,” Gardiner said. “The fact that we came together and played like we did is obviously a good sign.”
Head coach Rod Brind’Amour weighed in on what the team can take from their high-profile win over Gardiner’s former club as well, and what it says about Carolina’s potential to raise their game come playoff time.
“If we can do it with a guy coming off an emergency basis, then there’s certainly no reason why you shouldn’t be able to play that way every night,” Brind’Amour told Cotsonika.
“I get it. There’s a lot of emotion involved, and it’s hard to duplicate that. But you certainly understand the blueprint, anyway.”