RALEIGH, N.C. – The Carolina Hurricanes pulled closer to a wildcard playoff spot with a 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets at PNC Arena on Friday.
Goaltender Cam Ward’s 35-save performance backstopped the Hurricanes’ offensive effort led by Elias Lindholm’s two goals to go along with singles from Jordan Staal and Chris Terry.
Brandon Dubinsky scored the lone marker for Columbus, while netminder Anton Forsberg made 25 stops and suffered the loss while making his debut against Carolina.
Columbus tested Ward and the Carolina defense early, and the goaltender was ready for the challenge.
“I felt comfortable, I felt confident in the net,” Ward said.
“I felt ready right from the drop of the puck.”
Scoring in each period, the Hurricanes looked to increase their momentum and puck possession time throughout the game.
Playing a physical game in outhitting Carolina (17-18-7) by a 30-18 margin, the Blue Jackets (15-24-3) afforded the Hurricanes four power play opportunities throughout the game.
Carolina connected on its first one and took the lead in the first period.
Staal opened the game’s scoring at 16:09, posting his ninth goal of the season during that man-advantage sequence.
He redirected a point shot from Jaccob Slavin that found space between Forsberg’s pads and put Carolina ahead 1-0.
Kris Versteeg also earned an assist on the play.
Carolina carried the 1-0 advantage into the first intermission while outshooting the Blue Jackets 9-6.
Much of the play early during the second period took place between the blue lines before eventually extending into both teams’ zones.
While Carolina had its third power play of the game come up empty, the Blue Jackets’ fortunes with the man-advantage increased with a 5-on-3 opportunity at the eight-minute mark.
While he continued to make saves on shots he could see, Ward was eventually unable to prevent an own-goal deflection off John-Michael Liles’ skate that tied the score up at the 9:41 mark.
“We got into some penalty trouble obviously in the second period where we were a little too amped up and we couldn’t better control our discipline,” Ward said.
Dubinsky’s intended pass through the top of the crease ended up in the net and gave him his seventh goal of the season.
Not long after, the Hurricanes were down two players again after Justin Faulk was called for tripping and joined Terry in the penalty box while Columbus had another chance to score with the two-man advantage.
Ward once again came up with important stops, and got the help of his left post to keep a David Savard point shot from going in.
After killing off both penalties, Lindholm’s fifth goal of the season put Carolina ahead 2-1 with 5:25 to play in the period.
After Versteeg moved the puck back to the point, Noah Hanifin teed up a shot that Lindholm managed to get his stick on that beat Forsberg low to the glove side.
It was the young Swede’s first goal in 12 games, and became the eventual game winner.
“I love the greasy ones,” Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters said.
“I love the deflections. I love the fact that we’re getting the puck towards the net, to the net. They’re not getting blocked up top. And then obviously we’ve got guys trying to get to the net with and without the puck, so that’s encouraging.”
Carolina carried the lead into the final period of play and added to it.
In the process, play between both teams began to get more physical.
The action stopped momentarily when Carolina’s Brad Malone checked Nick Foligno in open ice in the Carolina zone which resulted in the Columbus captain falling to the ice.
Not moving much and taking several minutes to get up, Foligno eventually skated off on his own, but was visibly shaken from the hit.
“They’ll figure it out,” Columbus head coach John Tortorella said of no call being made on the play.
“The league has to look at it. I’m certainly not going to complain or try to position anything. In the situation we’re in, we need to shut our mouths and play, so there’s no complaining here. I’m not going to bellyache about it. Let the league figure it out.”
Columbus continued to press in the Carolina zone and looked to have pushed the puck past Ward with 12 minutes remaining.
However, upon further review, the referee rule that the goalie was pushed past the goal line by Columbus forward Cam Atkinson – a goaltender interference infraction.
Soon after, Carolina added to its lead when Terry scored his fourth of the season with 10:40 to play.
Off the breakout initiated by Slavin, Jeff Skinner carried the puck into the Columbus zone and found Terry alone in front of the net.
Forsberg made the pad save on Terry’s backhander, but the Carolina forward managed to beat the goaltender on his second attempt by batting the puck into the net from mid-air.
On the ensuing faceoff, Dubinsky and Malone squared off at center ice in what seemed to be retribution for the Carolina forward’s earlier hit on Foligno.
Both tussled and tangled while throwing a few punches at one another before they both fell to the ice and eventually skated to the box to serve off-setting fighting majors.
Carolina managed to fend off numerous attacks for the remainder of the game, being outshot during the final 40 minutes by a 30-20 margin.
Both Staals helped to set up Lindholm’s second goal, an empty netter with 1:01 remaining that iced the win for the Hurricanes.
“Cam was big – I thought he made a couple of key saves – that was nice for us,” Eric Staal said.
“We started makin’ some plays to raise it up a little bit. We got the job done and we’ve gotta’ follow it up tomorrow.”
While talking, Staal and the rest of the Hurricanes were quickly packing up to board their plane to race the Blue Jackets to Columbus where both teams will face off again on Saturday.
“We’re tryin’ to climb the ladder here,” Staal concluded.
“We know what we need to do as a group and as a team. We feel like we’ve played good enough hockey to get the wins but they haven’t always been there. But, we know what we’ve gotta do – we’ve gotta string together a bunch. It’s a huge test again tomorrow – we knew this weekend was big.”