RALEIGH, N.C. – While the Carolina Hurricanes extended their point streak to 11 games, a 4-3 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings at PNC Arena on Monday additionally resulted in a serious injury to starting goaltender Eddie Lack.
As Detroit’s Andreas Athanasiou drove to the net and eventually tucked the puck past Lack for the game-winning goal, the forward made contact with the netminder’s head.
The reaction from the 11,516 in attendance changed in a matter of seconds to an eventual silence as Lack lay head first on his stomach in his net, writhing in pain until the Hurricanes’ training and medical staff came to his aid.
The benches emptied and all players surrounded the Carolina goal crease area, looking on as the goaltender was eventually strapped to a spinal board and onto a stretcher and headed to the hospital.
At best guess, it was a long 10-15 minutes or so, but it felt like time stood still.
Who could think of the end of a hockey game – Carolina head coach Bill Peters couldn’t.
“That’s a tough one – you never like to see that.”
“Focusing on the game is one thing, but there are some things that are more important,” Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk said.
“That’s where that is right now.”
It all came about as part of the conclusion of a back-and-forth, one-goal battle between the two teams.
The contest was a rescheduled date from the two teams’ earlier–season matchup at PNC on Dec. 19 that was postponed due to a broken ice compressor seal rendered the ice surface unsafe for play.
While Faulk led the Hurricanes with two goals to go with a single from Jeff Skinner, it wasn’t enough to beat the Red Wings who finished with two goals from Anthony Mantha, and singles from Tomas Tatar and Athanasiou.
Scoring his 31st goal of the season at the 5:15 mark of the first, Skinner reached a team milestone, tying for third all-time on the Hurricanes’ goal-scoring list, sitting alongside assistant coach Rod Brind’Amour with 174 career tallies.
After Skinner drove a slap shot past Red Wings defenseman Mike Green and goaltender Petr Mrazek, Carolina led 1-0.
Defenseman Jaccob Slavin and forward Lee Stempnik earned assists on the play.
Still leading to start the second, it looked as though the Hurricanes would build on their lead, but Mrazek denied Stempniak from doing so on a tap-in chance in close.
Instead, Mantha’s back-to-back breakaway goals on Lack, all in a span of 70 seconds, took advantage of Carolina turnovers and defensive breakdowns.
Mantha’s 16th goal of the season went top-shelf over Lack’s stick-side shoulder, while his 17th slid through the keeper’s pads and the Red Wings had a 2-1 lead midway through the period.
“I think the guys were trying so hard to do good things that it made it harder to be where they needed to be,” Peters said.
Carolina continued to dominate possession up to that point in the game, both at even strength and on three power plays.
Though not scoring with the man-advantage, the hard work paid off 5-on-5 when Faulk wristed a shot through Mrazek’s pads and tied it up 2-2 at the 19:02 mark.
Slavin earned his second assist of the game on the play initiated by Derek Ryan.
Detroit looked to break the deadlock early in the third, maintaining possession and testing Lack with four shots before an interference penalty to Klas Dahlbeck provided the Wings the opportunity they needed.
Halfway into the power play, Tatar beat a diving Lack high and gave Detroit a 3-2 lead with 11:30 remaining.
Having not lost in regulation in 10 games, Carolina pushed up its offensive pace.
While weaving and threading passes in the Detroit zone, the Hurricanes couldn’t find the mark as several rushes and shot attempts went wide or were blocked.
With Lack out of the net with 90 seconds remaining, the Hurricanes pressed with the extra skater.
Mrazek made a save on a point shot from Faulk.
The puck continued to cycle around and eventually came out of the left corner, back to Noah Hanifin and across to Faulk.
With 51.1 seconds remaining, he snapped a shot through traffic with Skinner in front, into the top corner over Mrazek’s trapper, and tied the game once more.
Both teams skated to the end of regulation time still tied and headed into overtime.
As the clock approached the two-minute mark, Skinner’s slap shot on Mrazek rebounded off the goalie’s pads and a long swipe at the puck by Gustav Nyquist into the neutral zone left the puck free for a wide-open and streaking Athanasiou to pick up.
With the puck in his possession and cutting in off the right boards parallel to the goal line with Carolina’s Victor Rask trailing, Athanasiou didn’t go offline when pushed, and made it through Lack’s crease to score his second overtime winner in as many games.
Unfortunately for Lack, the collision with the forward ended the game, but immediately made him the center of attention.
At various points while he was being tended to, and even with the seriousness of the situation, fans broke the silence and showed their support with cheers and clapping that went along with chants of “Eddie, Eddie.”
Everyone watched the scene and waited for that signal – you know the one when someone is strapped in and being carted away – the ‘thumbs up’.
It finally came – Eddie signaled with his right hand – and both teams exited the ice surface and everyone in the stands headed home.
Back in the dressing room, Faulk answered questions about the game, as hard as it was to do so at the time.
He was asked: “What’s the mindset? How do you prepare everybody to get back on the ice tomorrow after something like that happens?
“It’s our job; we gotta come in; we gotta play,” Faulk responded.
“Nothing really else you can do. I don’t know if there’s any magic formula or if there’s any special trick to get your mind right for tomorrow. We’ll be listening close and trying to get word on Eddie, and then we’ll play the game.”
Faulk’s tying goal was critical to earning a valuable point to keep Carolina’s hopes of a miraculous playoff push moving forward.
It was one that Peters appreciated considering Carolina outshot Detroit 42-27.
“It’s a great point – to get a point out of that is huge. We need to learn from the way we played today to get better tomorrow.”
However, even while talking about the business of the game, the coach put it all in the proper context, just like his defenseman did.
“Right now, everyone is thinking about their teammate. We are going to regroup and come back with the right answer tomorrow. We’ll come in tomorrow and refocus on hockey.”
Update: A statement released at 11:05 p.m. by the Hurricanes read: “Eddie Lack is currently undergoing tests at UNC REX Hospital. He does have full feeling in his extremities. The Hurricanes will provide additional information about his condition when it is available.”