RALEIGH, N.C. – The Carolina Hurricanes met the league-leading Columbus Blue Jackets for the first time this season and put forth a gutsy effort and posted a 5-3 win at PNC Arena on Tuesday.
It was the Hurricanes’ fifth win in their last six games against Columbus, and pulled them to within three points of a wildcard spot in the NHL standings.
According to Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters, his team’s a part of the playoff picture.
“We’re part of it,” he said.
“Oh, we’re part of it. We believe we’re part of it and that’s what’s important.”
Trailing 1-0 following the opening period, the Hurricanes’ offense connected with single goals from Jeff Skinner, Derek Ryan, Brock McGinn, Jordan Staal, and an empty-netter from Victor Rask over the final 40 minutes.
“You want everyone to be dangerous and pushin’ the pace,” Peters continued.
“We’re tryin’ to generate more; we’re tryin’ to generate throughout the lineup; we’re tryin’ to generate from the first shift right to the final horn.”
Though it didn’t generate any tangible offensive results early on, Carolina eventually did as the game progressed.
At the other end of the rink, goaltender Cam Ward made 24 saves to earn his second win in as many games following a 4-3 OT win over Boston on Sunday.
It wasn’t his best outing while making his 17th straight start, but Ward made key stops in the third period that were critical to winning the game.
Skinner and Ryan were the tandem the Blue Jackets couldn’t contain who ignited a scoring surge in the second period.
Including linemate Victor Rask (1g, 2a), the three eventually combined for eight points as Skinner (1g, 2a), then Ryan (1g, 1a) scored 2:56 apart, and put Carolina ahead at the 4:57 mark.
Following an opening period highlighted by only Blue Jackets leading scorer Cam Atkinson tallying his 20th goal of the season 68 seconds into it, Skinner and Ryan helped open up what was an otherwise stuffy defensive game at both ends of the ice.
“Everyone knew we still had a chance in the game – it was only 1-0,” Rask pointed out.
“We just know that we’re a good team and we know what we can do. We thought we needed to get a couple of more shots and I think we did a good job of that.”
With Carolina barely edging Columbus 6-4 in shots on goal, Ward and the Blue Jackets’ goalie Anton Forsberg (23 saves) saw many pucks that were blocked or missed their mark before the first intermission.
Even while assuming a 2-1 lead, it didn’t appear that Ward looked comfortable.
Blue Jackets forward Josh Anderson’s chip at the puck towards the Carolina net off the right boards put enough flutter and height on it to elude defenseman Matt Tennyson and land in an open corner of the net over Ward’s left shoulder.
Just like that, the game was tied again with 11:59 to play in the period.
The Hurricanes then capitalized on an effective possession during a delayed penalty call in in the Columbus zone.
Carolina defenseman Noah Hanifin initiated the play with a pass to partner Tennyson along the blue line before he carried the puck behind Forsberg’s net.
Circling behind, Tennyson’s centering pass found McGinn open in the low slot and he made no mistake and scored his second goal of the season to put the Hurricanes ahead 3-2.
He hadn’t buried one since Dec. 7.
“For sure, it’s definitely a big goal,” McGinn said.
“Even if the goals and points aren’t comin’ right now, I think I can contribute to the team in other ways that can help us win games. Playing physical, just clearing space for my linemates, even if the points don’t come, you gotta bring another aspect of your game to help your team win.”
An offensive turnover inside the Blue Jackets’ blue line ended up on Brandon Saad’s stick and the forward headed down ice with Atkinson on a 2-on-1 and froze Ward long enough before snapping the puck at the net.
The Carolina neminder got a piece of it, but not enough, and the puck dropped into the net to tie the score once more.
Both teams faced off with three goals each to start the third.
Coming into the Columbus zone following a line change, forward Elias Lindholm, playing in his first game since Dec. 30th, beat Saad to the puck along the right boards and set up the Hurricanes’ next goal.
His wrist shot was redirected by Staal and beat Forsberg on his short side and put Carolina ahead 4-3 early in the period.
Rask added the empty-net tally with 21 seconds remaining.
Though allowing shaky goals earlier, Ward made numerous critical stops that helped maintain the Hurricanes’ lead until the final horn sounded.
Winning the first of four meetings between the two teams and earning points against a division foe, Carolina expects the intensity of play to heighten further when the two teams play each other again.
“It’s a good team,” Staal said.
“They’re gonna make pushes back. We made some good pushes too. It was a good game – back and forth – and we were fortunate enough to come out on top.”
“We’ve got a lot of games against divisional opponents,” Skinner added.
“Those are big games for us and you wanna try to pick up points as much as you can.”