RALEIGH, N.C. – It started out as a night of reflecting back to the Carolina Hurricanes’ 2006 Stanley Cup win.
The pomp and circumstance with former players in attendance raising and standing alongside the Stanley Cup took place for 15 minutes before the current edition of the Hurricanes put together an inspiring 6-3 win over the New York Islanders in front of 16,520 at PNC Arena on Saturday.
Carolina desperately sought to earn two points in the tight-gapped NHL Eastern Conference wildcard race after earning one point in a 2-1 shootout loss to Pittsburgh the night before.
They claimed their points and produced their highest goal output of the season, even without defenseman and leading scorer Justin Faulk who missed his second straight game due to a lower-body injury suffered in practice earlier in the week.
“I think it just went in tonight,” Carolina head coach Bill Peters said.
“Last night against Pittsburgh, it just didn’t go in.”
Victor Rask’s two goals along with singles from Riley Nash, Noah Hanifin, Kris Versteeg and Andrej Nestrasil led Carolina’s offensive surge while goaltender Cam Ward (14 saves) earned the win with support from Eddie Lack who finished the game with nine stops.
“We just really worked hard and got a lot of shots on net,” Rask said afterwards.
“It was nice to contribute to the team.”
John Tavares and Nick Leddy scored for New York while goaltenders Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss stopped a combined 25 shots in the loss which was credited to Halak.
Carolina got the start it needed and maintained possession time in the Islanders zone throughout the opening period testing Halak early and often.
With 2:38 remaining, Nash one-timed a snap shot from the right faceoff dot to beat Halak high and gave Carolina a 1-0 lead.
After gaining the zone, Nash worked the puck along the boards to Jay McClement who passed it back to tee up his shot after he created space between himself and Islanders defenseman Casey Cizikas.
It was his fifth goal of the season.
Carolina carried the one-goal lead into the second intermission while outshooting the Islanders 16-7 in the period.
Maintaining their systemic forechecking pressure, the Hurricanes hemmed the Islanders deep in their zone and got a goal out of it as a result.
Jordan Staal passed the puck back to defenseman Noah Hanifin who then redirected it towards the low slot where Nestrasil battled for position with Johnny Boychuk.
The puck deflected of the Islanders defenseman’s skate, changed speed and caught Halak off guard enough to slide past him and into the net to put Carolina ahead 2-0.
Versteeg then scored an impressive goal when he redirected a cross-zone pass at the top of the crease past Halak.
Breaking towards the far post, Versteeg only needed to place his stick on the ice for Phil Di Giuseppe to wire him a pass behind both Islanders defensemen to extend the Hurricanes’ lead to three goals at the 9:34 mark.
Topping Versteeg’s goal was Nestrasil’s that came 80 seconds later when he one-timed a pass across the low slot and extended the Carolina lead to 4-0.
His ninth goal of the season, and fourth in his last five games, came about on a play initiated by Staal.
The resultant 2-on-1 ended with Nestrasil as the recipient of a well-placed finishing pass from Joakim Nordstrom.
“Nordy made a helluva pass,” Nestrasil said.
“That was a beautiful saucer (pass) right on my tape, and I just finished it.”
Tavares then beat Ward to pull the Islanders within three with 6:14 remaining in the period.
Skating through open space to Ward’s left, the Islanders captain redirected Kyle Okposo’s pass from the corner over the Carolina keeper’s stick side shoulder to post his 21st goal of the season.
New York continued to carry its momentum forward as Nick Leddy’s point shot beat Ward high while John-Michael Liles sat in the box.
The power play goal at 15:20 cut the Carolina advantage down to 4-2.
Soon after, play after the whistle got chippy as Nordstrom and Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic sparred briefly before each sat for roughing.
Prior to the whistle at the other end, Ward had made a save while sliding out of his crease, and appeared to have injured himself in doing so.
He was replaced by Eddie Lack at the 17:34 mark.
“It looked like a knee or ankle,” Peter said when asked afterwards.
“I didn’t see it. He just had to come out and didn’t feel 100 percent confident in it.”
A penalty to Ryan Strome then gave Carolina another power play opportunity.
Rask took advantage of it and scored his 13th of the season when he followed up his own rebound to score and put the Hurricanes back up by three at 18:37.
Rask wasn’t finished as he cleaned up a rebound from Di Giuseppe and beat a bewildered Halak with a second remaining in the period.
Halak showed his disgust following the goal by slapping at the puck and sending towards the boards by the center line.
Carolina led 6-2 after two periods and outshot the Islanders by a 28-18 margin up to that point.
“It’s 4-2 and all of a sudden we’re back in it and then we take an offensive zone penalty,” Islanders head coach Jack Campuano said.
“I felt like the crowd was out of it at the time – we had the surge going and the momentum.”
Both teams started the third with different netminders as Lack continued in goal for Carolina while Thomas Greiss replaced Halak.
Picking up its pace with the puck heading into the seventh minute, New York cut the Hurricanes lead to 6-3 when Matt Martin beat Lack high from in close with a one-timer set up by Cizikas and Boychuk.
The Islanders continued to pressure Carolina and Lack, but the netminder held tough in his crease with his defense cleaning up rebounds around him for the remainder of the game.
The win was complete and pulled the Hurricanes to within three points of the final wildcard spot.
“You’ve got to find a way to finish and score big goals in big games, Peters concluded.
“And these are big games right now, let’s not kid ourselves.”