RALEIGH, N.C. – The Stanley Cup playoffs highlight top performers, and Carolina’s Teuvo Teravainen has been one of them.
Tallying a goal and an assist, he and the Hurricanes completed a second-round, four-game series sweep of the New York Islanders with a 5-2 win in front of a record crowd of 19,495 at PNC Arena on Friday.
As the first star of the game, Teravainen extended his current point streak to three games (4/28-5/3: 2g, 3a) as the Hurricanes advanced to the Eastern Conference Final.
“At Christmas time we were at the bottom of the list,” Teravainen said.
“Now we’re here. It’s amazing to think about it. Our game just got better and better. We just got better as a group. Now we’re a strong group on and off the ice.”
Ascending to the top
Much of the team’s upward progression since the beginning of 2019 can be accounted to the leadership of captain Justin Williams, who’s direct and succinct sound bites have narrated Carolina’s play from day to day and game to game.
Why not, he’s revered for his past playoff performance and accomplishments in helping advance past Hurricanes and Los Angeles Kings teams to Cup wins.
But this team is also comprised of playoff newbies like defenseman Jaccob Slavin (11a) and rookie forward Warren Foegele (5g, 4a) who are making their marks offensively, sitting at the upper level of the league’s postseason scoring leaders.
In case you missed it, Teravainen’s up there to.
His six goals in 11 games currently has him leading the team and sitting tied for third overall among NHL playoff scorers.
Along with Brett Pesce, Jordan Staal and Slavin, Teravainen’s plus-8 rating has them tied all for second in that category.
Pursuing, waiting, pouncing
Consistent foot speed and skating pace with a patient mindset on both the forecheck and in defensive coverage has developed an aggressive transition game that has translated into goals scored for Carolina.
It’s an important key to Teravainen’s success.
If he’s not putting the puck in the net, he’s helping teammates like Sebastian Aho do it.
Both assisted on each other’s goals on Friday, marking the fourth and fifth times this postseason the two have combined on the same goal.
During the regular season, both recorded a point on the same goal 43 times, and either Teravainen or Aho tallied a point on 116 of Carolina’s 243 goals in 2018-19 (47.7%).
“We try to forecheck hard and when we keep doing that, their D are gonna make turnovers,” Teravainen pointed out.
“Just so much pressure on their D and when we get those loose pucks, just get ready to get some good chances. A couple of good passes and the puck’s in.”
Playing with confidence
While hitting some points in the season when he wasn’t putting the puck in the net, he was contributing with helpers.
Many wish he could be a hungrier and greedier finisher and score more goals.
Although never heralded as the team leader compared to Williams and Aho, at least according to the attention they receive, Teravainen deserves recognition as different kind of leader.
Credit that to his personality – quiet, even-keeled and respectful.
He seems to dodge the spotlight, but if you know him well enough, he craves it inside.
What high-level performer doesn’t?
“When my confidence is high, I feel like I make good plays,” he said.
“I’m strong on pucks and I feel like when I get a lot of ice time – power play, penalty kill – it gets my confidence up. I love this time of the year – games matter so much. I feel like I try to focus on the game a lot and I’m ready for the games and to make plays.”
Past experience comes to the fore
Teravainen knows what it’s like to make contributions toward winning a Stanley Cup.
He did it back in 2015 with the Chicago Blackhawks, finishing that postseason, his first, with four goals and six assists (+2) in 18 games on 26 shots and 15% shooting.
Following the Canes sweep of the Islanders during his third career playoff season, he’s upped his quality of finish converting at 18% on 32 shots taken.
It’s evident that this postseason is bringing out the best in his game.
“I might be a little more quiet guy in the locker room, but still I try to lead on the ice by example,” Teravainen pointed out.
“It was a little different in Chicago. They had so many superstars. We don’t really have that kind of superstar here, so I have to be kind of one of the guys who’s showing up every night. Because if I’m not, it’s gonna be a tough time to win I feel like. It’s just fun to be a part of this group.”
Having played in a conference final already, Teravainen hopes that Carolina follows the path he traveled with his teammates in Chicago.
You won’t see behind-the-scenes video of him yelling and screaming to energize and excite his teammates.
Rather, he’ll assume his role in the same manner on and off the ice as a part of the overall Canes mosaic that includes players, coaches, staff, and fans.
“The leaders on this team are great like they were in Chicago at that time,” Teravainen said.
“We have a younger team sure, but our younger guys are doing a real good job following our leaders. There’s a lot of energy in the building – just awesome to play in and I feel like the locker room is just so fun to be in right now.”
Peter Koutroumpis: 401-323-8960, @pksport