RALEIGH, N.C. – It was a game that they needed to win.
The Carolina Hurricanes suffered a 3-2 overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets in front of a crowd of 16,714 in attendance at PNC Arena on Saturday.
Ryan Johansen scored the game-winner on the power play at 2:40 in the sudden-death overtime period to give Columbus the win that added another point to the distance between the two teams in the standings.
Heading into the game trailing the Blue Jackets by seven points in the fight for a wild card spot in the NHL’s Eastern Conference, the Hurricanes didn’t gain any ground, even while earning a point at the end of the two team’s final meeting of the regular season.
They played as complete a game as they could, according to head coach Kirk Muller.
But in the end, three mistakes and a man-advantage opportunity for the Blue Jackets was what decided the final outcome.
“It’s tough because it’s a big game,” Muller said.
“We talked before the game that it was gonna’ be a 60-minute game, 60-minute plus. It turns out it was. I thought we played really well. It was a playoff-style game – not much space out there – we got key goals at the right time. Unfortunately, the three mistakes that we made cost us.”
Jeff Skinner and Andrei Loktionov scored for Carolina while Columbus countered with goals from Matt Calvert and Artem Anisimov to keep the two teams tied regulation time.
The Hurricanes pressured the Blue Jackets early, dumping pucks in and gaining possession on the cycle to challenge goaltender Curtis McElhinney who made 25 saves on the night.
McElhinney battled to keep the puck out of his net while Carolina starting netminder Anton Khudobin did the same in making 29 stops in the losing effort.
With 6:38 remaining in the opening period, Khudobin made a big stop on Blake Comeau as he attempted to finish a two-on-one set up from Mark Letestu.
At the other end four minutes later, the line of Skinner, Elias Lindholm, and Riley Nash buzzed around the Blue Jackets net, but couldn’t connect on any passes or pick up a rebound from a Jay Harrison point shot that didn’t get past McElhinney.
While the Blue Jackets outshot the Hurricanes 11-7 in the period, both teams remained scoreless by the first intermission.
Jiri Tlusty had many opportunities to put the Hurricanes ahead during the final two periods of play in regulation but missed the net wide on the chances he had when he was parked in front of the Columbus net.
Captain Eric Staal also had chances to put Carolina ahead, but couldn’t find the openings to do so.
“They check hard,” Staal said of the Blue Jackets defense.
“They’re big. The back end’s physical. You gotta’ work to get to the front of the net. It was a tight game and when it’s close like that and you get the opportunity, you want to really cash in and unfortunately for me personally, I missed that chance.”
While Khudobin continued to stymie the Blue Jackets, Skinner finally opened the game’s scoring with 3:31 remaining in the second.
Skinner found an opening after McElhinney made a save on his first shot, then while Lindholm scrambled with a defenseman to collect the rebound, Skinner’s second chance at the puck made it to the back of the net.
To begin the overall play, it was Riley Nash who worked the puck out of the corner on the forecheck that allowed him to slide a quick centering pass to give Skinner the opportunity to put the Hurricanes ahead 1-0.
Not soon after, Columbus was able to thank the Hurricanes leading goal scorer as a miscue on a pass from Skinner turned the puck over to Calvert who picked it up in the faceoff circle and beat an unsuspecting Khudobin with a point-blank shot.
The goal with 1:14 to play in the period, tied the game 1-1 and both teams headed into the second intermission even once again.
“We continued to fight and battle with chances both ways,” Staal continued.
“Tough play on the overtime winner.”
Barely a minute into the third period, Carolina got its first opportunity on the power play as Columbus’ Boone Jenner was called for interference.
Sekera got the Hurricanes’ best scoring opportunity on McElhinney during the sequence, but a good a pad save on the point shot kept the teams fighting for the lead.
With 13:59 remaining in the third, Carolina got another chance with the man-advantage as Corey Tropp went to the box for tripping.
Loktionov converted on the opportunity, tallying the power play marker that gave Carolina a 2-1 lead with a shot that beat McElhinney low to the stick side.
Nash earned his second assist of the game to set up the go-ahead goal after Jay Harrison moved the puck from the point to the corner where he stood.
“He’s picked his game up,” Muller said of Nash.
“From the Olympic break on, I think he’s really elevated his game.”
The Hurricanes didn’t have long to enjoy the lead once again as the Blue Jackets tied it up 50 seconds later as Nathan Horton’s weak shot on Khudobin was misplayed by the goaltender in his crease.
Anisimov got his stick on the loose puck and tucked into the back of the net to even the score 2-2 with 12:32 to play.
From that point until the final horn sounded, Khudobin and McElhinney’s play pushed both squads to use the overtime period to decide the final outcome.
The Hurricanes got the first shot on goal in the extra period, but McElhinney made an important save with Jordan Staal parked at the top of his crease.
Brandon Dubinsky then carried the puck along the left wing into the Carolina zone and rattled a shot of the post before Tlusty was called for closing his hand on the puck after Khudobin tried to do the same.
The miscue and lack of focus that resulted in the penalty gave the Blue Jackets the power play opportunity to win the game.
Shortly after Khudobin kept the game alive for Carolina with a save on a booming point shot from James Wisniewski, Anisimov won a puck battle along the boards against Justin Faulk and slid it to Johansen who was skating through the slot with a lot of steam.
The center then snapped a shot that dribbled off Khudobin’s trapper and into the net and gave the Blue Jackets the win.
“It’s past frustrating now,” Staal said.
“We seem to just find ways to lose and we need to find ways to win. Whether it be a bounce, a quick breakdown, whether it be a battle, it just seems like the chance we have doesn’t seem to want to fall and the chance that goes the other way goes in.”