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Mrazek may prefer to avoid shootouts, but he doesn’t lose them

All things considered, Petr Mrazek would just as soon avoid a shootout entirely, which makes him not unlike just about anyone who has seen too many of them over the past 14 years as the postgame skills competition has gone from interesting novelty to tedious sideshow.

That doesn’t mean he doesn’t take it seriously. The Carolina Hurricanes goalie was impeccable yet again in the extra extra period, and while there were aspects of his performance in the first 65 minutes he wasn’t thrilled with, on the whole he was good enough to get the Hurricanes to overtime on a night they played with more emotion than structure, and even better in the shootout.

“Well, you don’t want to go to the shootout, I think,” Mrazek said. “It’s great for fans but we want to finish earlier. But two points, a win, first game. I don’t know what else we could ask for.”

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Carolina Hurricanes’ goalie Petr Mrazek (34) reacts after stopping a shot by Montreal’s Nick Suzuki (14) during the shootout, securing the Hurricanes’ 4-3 victory on Thursday, October 3, 2019 at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

Mrazek’s saves on Paul Byron, Jonathan Drouin and Nick Suzuki ensured Dougie Hamilton’s shootout-opening goal held up as the winner as the Hurricanes opened the season with a 4-3 win over the Montreal Canadiens, coming back from a goal down in the third period to capture both points after previously blowing a 2-0 lead. That’s a bit of a see-saw sentence, but it was a bit of a see-saw game.

On a night when the Hurricanes were kind of all over the place, although not in a terrible way -- “They all want to be a hero,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said of all the players -- Mrazek was there to clean up the mess.

Perhaps not surprisingly, given the turnover on the roster since last spring’s run through the playoffs, the Hurricanes were all broad strokes and no details, getting burned for goals on a failed clear and a bad line change, but not getting burned on other routine miscues because of Mrazek.

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Carolina Hurricanes’ goalie Petr Mrazek (34) stops a shot by Cale Fleury (20) during the shootout n Thursday, October 3, 2019 at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. Mrazek did not allow any goals during the shootout. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

His biggest save came against Cale Fleury on a third-period breakaway, staying patient to steer Fleury’s shot wide with his right pad, and helped give the Hurricanes, who thoroughly dominated the third, the momentum they needed to tie the score. Which Erik Haula did only seconds after shooting the puck through the crease on a partly open net, getting the puck back off a Hamilton rebound and finishing the job against Carey Price.

Now it’s on to Washington, where Mrazek was so good against the Capitals in the playoffs, but after the uncertainty on both sides about whether the free agent would be back, and the way he played against the Bruins after returning from injury, this was an emphatic way to renew his tenure.

“(Mrazek) was our rock for sure,” newly appointed captain Jordan Staal. “It wasn’t our best. We had flurries of it. The third period, start of the third, was a great character check. I thought the group responded being down going into the third, coming out with that start. ... There were good things and things we have to work better on away from the puck, but Mrazek was on par.”

The Hurricanes also hit two posts and the crossbar, Ryan Dzingel accounting for two of the dings, one short of a sort of heavy-metal hat trick.

But that was all they could get in the third or overtime, leaving it to a shootout. When that happens with Mrazek in net at home, there’s going to be a Storm Surge. (And there was Thursday, a reprise of the inaugural celebration after last year’s opening win.) Mrazek is a perfect 9-for-9 in three shootout wins with the Hurricanes, a huge change for a franchise that has traditionally struggled in the fourth period.

Cam Ward, who received a lengthy standing ovation when he was announced as the pregame siren sounder, won his first shootout as a rookie but still had an 18-41 record and .633 save percentage with the Hurricanes. Martin Gerber had a slightly better save percentage, .697, but had shootout ace Matt Cullen to thank in large part for a 7-2 record in 2005-06. Manny Legace and Anton Khudobin were better, in very limited samples; Scott Darling and Justin Peters much worse.

This is still a limited sample for Mrazek as well, but impressive nevertheless. Especially Thursday, when the Hurricanes deserved both points and Mrazek made sure they got them.

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Sports columnist Luke DeCock has covered the Summer Olympics, the Final Four, the Super Bowl and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup. He joined The News & Observer in 2000 to cover the Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a columnist in 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and has won multiple national and state awards for his columns and feature writing while twice being named North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year.
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