RALEIGH, N.C. – The Carolina Hurricanes put the Winnipeg Jets on the defensive right from the opening faceoff at PNC Arena on Tuesday.
While the Jets worked to play a ‘heavy’ game, dishing out 21 hits to Carolina’s 16, the Hurricanes managed to contain the Jets long enough and posted an important 2-1 win to their regular-season ledger.
With another two points to its credit, Carolina kept its playoff hopes alive in the NHL Eastern Conference wildcard standings, trailing the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lighting by two points and the New Jersey Devils by three.
Special teams play made the difference in sweeping the season series against the Jets as the Hurricanes finished 2-for-5 with the man-advantage and a perfect 4-for-4 effort on the penalty kill.
“It was huge – difference in the game, right?” Carolina head coach Bill Peters said.
“Specialty teams and the goaltender was good when we needed him to.”
Jordan Staal and Riley Nash scored power play goals with assists from Elias Lindholm while goaltender Eddie Lack, apparently not feeling well, made 20 saves to earn Carolina the win.
“I thought he got better and better,” Peters stated regarding Lack’s health.
“He felt a little ill a couple of days ago, got a little stronger as he went, and felt much better this morning, and played real well this evening. That’s what you’re supposed to do – you get an opportunity, you better capitalize on it and he did. He played well.”
Staal scored his 13th of the season on Carolina’s first power play of the game.
While camped out at the top of Winnipeg goalie Ondrej Pavelec’s crease, Staal’s backhand swipe at the rebound on a shot from Nash managed to climb over the netminder’s body and into the net.
The goal put the Hurricanes ahead 1-0 at the 10:33 mark of the opening period.
Carolina maintained its one-goal lead through 20 minutes and outshot Winnipeg 9-4.
Staal also dominated over the faceoff do and won 13-of-21 draws he took, just below the 69 percent success rate the Hurricanes maintained all game.
“I’m just focusing on makin’ playoffs and contributing as best I can to get wins,” Staal said.
“It’s been nice they’ve been goin’ in. My linemates have been awesome the last few months, and they’ve done a great job of findin’ ways to put it in as well, so it’s been good hockey and hopefully we can keep contributing in that way.”
While Staal’s mates, Andrej Nestrasil and Joakim Nordstrom, each ended recent two-game point streaks, their effort throughout the game fueled the Hurricanes’ forecheck and made it difficult for Winnipeg to move the puck out of their zone numerous times.
Carolina took advantage of its third power play opportunity when Nash scored on a rebound that Pavelec served up on a Noah Hanifin point shot.
“It was just a little slapper from Hanny,” Nash said.
“He doesn’t have the hardest shot, but he really gets it through.”
Scoring his sixth goal of the season, Nash extended the Hurricanes’ lead to 2-0 with 9:40 to play in the period.
Still trailing Carolina by two to start the third, Winnipeg played with a more focused forecheck.
The Jets clogged up the neutral zone and eventually forced a turnover to keep possession in the Carolina zone.
As a result, defenseman Jacob Trouba teed up a point shot that beat Lack after Blake Wheeler tipped it in as he stood as the screen in front.
Carolina tightly held on to its 2-1 lead as the midpoint of the period approached.
A hooking penalty to Phil Di Giuseppe then gave the Jets an optimal opportunity to tie it up.
However, defenseman Tyler Myers’ roughing penalty negated that soon after.
Both teams continued with four skaters apiece until Carolina had another power play opportunity with Myers’ remaining penalty time.
However, they didn’t capitalize on it.
With both teams back at full strength, play continued from end-to-end as Lack and Pavelec made several key stops and kept it a one-goal contest.
Winnipeg had ample opportunities to pull even, but Lack made the stops needed to make.
For Peters, the finish showed the resilience his team has developed in such situations.
“I thought they came with a push – no different than in Winnipeg,” he said.
“They came up with a big push when they were down in Winnipeg, and played well in the third in Winnipeg. They played well again here in the third here tonight. That’s the one thing with the youth – the youth gets a little nervous at times – they have to figure it out and how to win and what’s goin’ on in the game and how teams change. We watch a lot of video, we talk about it. What I like is our older guys in the dressing room hold the young guys accountable and then they have to model the behavior. When you have that, you have a chance to win.”