RALEIGH, N.C. – Effort in the corners and finishes around the goal crease made the difference during regulation play when the Carolina Hurricanes and Ottawa Senators faced off for the third and final time at PNC Arena on Tuesday.
Then it was finesse and resilience during the shootout from Hurricanes rookie defenseman Jaccob Slavin roofing a backhander and goaltender Cam Ward making a glove save that completed a 4-3 comeback win over the Senators.
Jeff Skinner’s two goals and a single from Jay McClement came during the second and third periods to eventually even a 2-0 deficit Carolina faced following the first period.
Cam Ward made 21 saves to earn the win, but was taken advantage of with easy tuck-ins as his defense left him scrambling to find the puck.
Ottawa’s three goals were tallied by Mark Stone, Ryan Dzingel, and Zack Smith while goalkeeper Andrew Hammond made 34 stops throughout.
Early on, Ward was sharp in making two separate near-breakaway stops on Mike Hoffman and Smith.
Ottawa continued to pressure the Hurricanes behind the goal line and it eventually paid off.
Stone caught Ward looking the other way when he came from behind the net on his right side and jammed the puck in and put Ottawa ahead 1-0 at the 7:58 mark.
It was a heavy and grinding game with 61 hits combined dished out by both sides that led to giveaways and takeaways and ultimately scoring opportunities.
Recently called up Hurricanes forward Brendan Woods got into a fight with Ottawa’s seasoned veteran and heavyweight Chris Neil soon after the opening goal.
“He said I slashed him and I said ‘hey you wanna do it?’ Just dropped the gloves and that was it,” Woods said.
While Woods managed a few punches in Neil’s direction, it was the effort that he put forward to stand up to him that earned him the team’s fire helmet after the game.
Neil definitely provided Woods the opportunity to skate away with some dignity.
“I guess you could say it’s good for your resume; it’s neat to fight a guy like that,” Woods continued with a smile.
“I’m pretty happy how it all turned out. He just let me know that he took it easy on me.”
Woods’ attempt to generate some momentum for Carolina with his tussle with Neil worked, but not well enough.
The Senators maintained their pace while Hammond came up with a big stop on Carolina’s Riley Nash and kept the lead intact.
A tenacious forechecking effort led by Scott Gomez paid off for Ottawa as he caused a turnover from Jordan Staal that allowed Bobby Ryan to get the puck and set up the second goal of the game.
Ryan’s drop pass from behind the net to Ward’s left post found Dzingel wide open and he scored easily with 26 seconds remaining in the period to give Ottawa a 2-0 lead.
Ottawa outshot the Hurricanes by a 12-6 margin to hold the two-goal lead after 20 minutes.
“We got a little talking to, obviously by coach,” Staal said.
“We knew as a group, everyone in the group didn’t have a great start in that first period, including myself.”
“After the first, it was definitely not the way we wanted to start – we kind of hung Wardo out to dry there,” Skinner added.
Skinner pulled the Hurricanes to within one just under two minutes into the second period following a goalmouth scramble as Hammond stopped Phil Di Giuseppe on a shot down low from the right circle.
To start the sequence, Hammond made a pad save on Skinner’s initial snap shot when he crossed the Ottawa blue line.
As the play continued to develop, defenseman Ryan Murphy’s point shot went wide before Di Giuseppe put his shot attempt on net and pulled Hammond out of position scrambling for the puck and gave Skinner a wide open net to score his 24th of the season.
The momentum remained with Carolina even on the penalty kill as Brad Malone sat after hooking Ottawa’s Mika Zibanejad.
With the penalty time almost expired, McClement stole the puck from Zibanejad in the neutral zone and streaked down the right boards past him and cut in hard to the net and jammed it past Hammond to tie it up 2-2 at the 6:24 mark.
Play opened up at both ends as the pace picked up and required both goaltenders to make exceptional stops to keep it all even.
Carolina carried much of the possession time during the period including two power-play opportunities and outchanced the Senators 18-8 while trying to take its first lead of the game.
“Second period we had a little bit of a better effort and had more chances and we were able to build on that,” Skinner pointed out.
While Carolina was feeling good about what it had done to pull back even, it was Smith who beat Ward with a shorthanded goal with 35 seconds remaining in the period to put Ottawa back ahead.
The center picked up the puck in the neutral zone and gathered enough speed to beat Hurricanes defenseman Noah Hanifin down the left boards before wristing the puck between Wards pads.
The Senators carried the 3-2 lead into the third period.
It was a hard fought final period of play with ample hits, takeaways, and quality scoring chances.
Ottawa held onto its advantage throughout while Carolina pressed during the final minutes, pulling Ward for the extra skater.
A few different times the Senators had the opportunity to put the game out of reach with empty-net goals, but to no avail.
“It was a game of swings,” Ottawa head coach Dave Cameron stated.
With time running down, it was Carolina who took advantage of one upward movement in its direction.
As all 11 players surrounded the Ottawa net, Skinner teed up a slap shot that caught the top right corner and tied the score 3-3 with a few hundredths of a second left.
Cameron used his coach’s challenge on the play, but it was to no avail as Skinner’s 25th goal of the season stood.
A point was earned by each side as they prepared to start overtime.
During the extra period, Ottawa’s skaters looked to have more opportunities to beat Ward, but didn’t.
Carolina couldn’t convert either on a quality shot that Hammond got in front of.
The closest chance for the Hurricanes came with seven seconds remaining when Elias Lindholm’s wrist shot deflected into Hammond’s chest.
Still tied, the shootout then took place in dramatic fashion as Skinner and Chris Terry missed, while Zibanejad’s attempt gave Ottawa the advantage after two rounds.
Riley Nash then beat Hammond to even it up.
Ward then denied Stone and Smith in succession while Slavin scored the deciding goal to give Carolina its first shootout win of the season.
“The guys were adamant to go with Slavin,” Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters said when taking suggestions from his assistant coaches.
“He did a very good job; he looked comfortable in what he was doing. Ward did very good also.”
“That’s my go-to move,” Slavin said when asked about the smooth-looking toe drag-to-backhand roofer that he finished with.
“I’ve done that my whole life and its worked a couple of times for me in the past, so I figured I’d give it a shot.”
Each team began the night with 69 points in the Eastern Conference wildcard race, and both trailed the final spot by six points.
Carolina seized its opportunity and jumped ahead by one and sat four behind the Detroit Red Wings.
“It was right down to the wire,” Peters said.
“Credit to the guys for staying with it; we really responded.”