RALEIGH, N.C. – It was a fight for respect and to prove that form and structure trumps free-flowing, raw talent.
The Hurricanes beat the Oilers 7-4 and staged an impressive comeback to do so.
After losing 3-1 to the Minnesota Wild on Friday in a game that coach Bill Peters described as straying from the team’s core concepts, the Hurricanes needed to redeem themselves.
A loss to the Oilers would have been the ultimate slap in the face to what the coach has been trying to instill in this squad since training camp.
Elias Lindholm finished with five points – a hat trick to go with two assists – while captain Eric Staal tallied four assists.
Jeff Skinner added two goals, both on the power play, while Andrej Nestrasil and Alexander Semin added singles to put together what eventually became a drubbing of a high-risk structure of play on Edmonton’s part.
Led by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ hat trick, the Oilers led 3-0 before Carolina realized it was getting run out of its own building.
Goaltender Cam Ward made 16 saves to eventually earn the win while Edmonton’s Richard Bachman stopped 28 pucks in the losing effort.
Special teams played a critical role in the outcome of the game.
“It’s good the power play came through,” Peters said.
“It looks like all of a sudden you’ve given up 2-out-of-3 on the kill, and it looks like you’re gonna’ lose the specialty teams battle and at the end of the day, you end up winnin’ it because you’re 3-for-5.”
From the opening faceoff, Carolina looked like the better team, moving the puck cleanly into the offensive zone and putting shots on net.
Outshooting the Oilers 6-1 early on, the 12,826 on hand for Military Appreciation Day were waiting to celebrate the Hurricanes’ first goal.
Instead, they were left with their mouths gaping as the Oilers took a 1-0 lead.
Nugent-Hopkins scored his first of the night by taking advantage of a turnover in the neutral zone and beating Ward with a well-placed shot.
“To be honest, I thought we were good early,” Peters said.
“I think it didn’t show on the scoreboard, but I didn’t mind our start at all. I liked the way we started and in general, I liked our game.”
Thinking its fortune would turn for the better soon after, Carolina actually dropped into a deeper hole during the second period.
It was a chasm they created as penalties to Semin and Staal allowed Jordan Eberle to score at 6:45, soon to be followed up by another Nugent-Hopkins goal, just over a minute later.
Edmonton led 3-0.
The building was silent, except for the handful of Oilers fans in attendance.
Not only did the Hurricanes trail by three, but their crown jewel, the NHL’s top penalty kill, was tarnished.
It was not the way they expected to play the opening 30 minutes of the game.
Edmonton’s talented offensive corps showed that if you shoot on the net, you will score.
“We were better I thought most of the night,” Staal said.
“Obviously we were down by a bunch, but we were still better in our game. We stayed with it, took over, and got the job done.”
It all started with Semin’s goal, his second in his last three games, and fourth of the season.
It was one that resembled a play you would see in a mini-mite game.
A scene where players are sliding around while flailing at the puck and others are crowding the front of the net trying to stop it, yet the black disc somehow still makes it through.
Yes, it looked like that, but Semin made it look a little more deliberate and artistic.
While stickhandling through the slot, he was hacked to the ice and as he slid past the puck, he managed to keep his eye on it long enough to reach back to scoop it around towards the net.
The crowd movement in front of the Edmonton net caught Bachman out of position and allowed the puck to slide underneath him and into the net.
The Russian was helped up by smiling linemates Skinner and Riley Nash in celebration of their first goal of the game – one that finally came 29 minutes and 22 seconds after the opening puck drop.
After the game, in a rare occurrence, Semin talked with the media about the play and how it helped to spark the team’s offensive surge.
“I don’t know – the goal today – I just shoot for the net and that’s it,” he said smiling.
“The guy slashed me in my legs and I go down and just to see the puck and turn it for the net.”
When asked if he was proud to draw two penalties later in the game that gave Carolina the man-advantage which eventually translated into more goals, Semin instead referred back to the hooking penalty he was called for.
The one which gave Edmonton a 2-0 lead.
“Probably a tough call for the ref,” he said.
With the Hurricanes goal infusing life into the building, the players fed off of the energy and created a momentum that soon overwhelmed Edmonton.
“That’s a pretty circus shot,” Eric Staal added in describing Semin’s goal.
“He’s got skill, that’s pretty evident. I think everybody knows that, so it was one of those plays that he made happen. Pretty nice to watch.”
Lindholm then scored his first of the game three minutes later, cutting the Edmonton lead to 3-2.
“That’s the type of goal you only see on the highlights and now to watch one live, it’s pretty cool to see,” Lindholm said.
“I thought after that goal we started playing real well. It was a nice goal.”
As Carolina chipped away at the lead, the Oilers chipped away at the Hurricanes with their bodies and sticks.
The leak soon became a full-on gusher for the Oilers as Carolina exploded for three straight power play goals, coming during a time that extended from the second and third periods.
Skinner’s first man-advantage goal on the right crease tied it up at the 15:23 mark.
Nestrasil then sniped a shot from the slot over Bachman’s shoulder while using defender Oscar Clefbom as a screen.
It was another power play goal that gave Carolina the advantage and first lead of the game, 4-3, 1:40 into the final period.
Skinner then unleashed a wrist shot through traffic that dipped below Bachman’s trapper and extended the lead to two goals.
Lindholm added his second of the game 31 seconds later and the astounding six-goal run had totally turned what looked like a potential embarrassment for Carolina into one for Edmonton.
“They’ve got a lot of skilled players and a lot of guys that can skate,” Skinner said.
“They play a style that plays into that. As forwards, we have to try to find ways to hold them up and sort of alleviate that pressure they can put on our D. They’ve got a lot of quick forwards that can cause some chaos. Obviously, like you saw, they can put the puck in the net when they get a chance. It was a good job by everyone as a team, as a unit, when we were out there to hold their guys up and work through our end and the neutral zone pretty quickly. Then try and get down in their end and have some fun.”
It was evident that what Skinner referred to as fun was that of pouring in the most goals scored in a game this season for the Hurricanes.
Lindholm’s final goal, an empty netter, achieved that mark and completed an overwhelming comeback.
While being outshot 35-20, you could say the Oilers were efficient in scoring on 20 percent of their chances.
Then again, so were the Hurricanes, who finished with the same success percentage-wise, but netted decidedly more goals.
Following the game, no one more than Peters could agree that what he’s been selling all season was worth buying into.
“Instead of deviating away from what works, we just stayed with it and got rewarded,” he said.
“That should be a really good lesson moving forward, not just this year, but down the road. I think with these young guys now, there’s no panic, there’s no need to change anything. We didn’t need to become high-risk – we never – and we got rewarded.”
In the end, form and structure was the winning formula for success.