RALEIGH, N.C. – The Carolina Hurricanes came out on the losing end of a physical battle with the Columbus Blue Jackets at PNC Arena on Tuesday.
Yes, they earned a point, but they eventually lost 4-3 as Columbus forward Ryan Johansen scored the lone goal in the shootout to give the Blue Jackets the win.
It was a game of runs with particular focus on special teams as five of six goals scored between the two teams were posted on the power play.
Not a surprising circumstance considering both units were amongst the top third of the league’s power play leaders – Columbus (28-34-4) sitting in seventh (20.3) while Carolina (25-32-8) was ranked 10th (19.5).
The Blue Jackets finished 3-for-5 with the man-advantage while the Hurricanes went 2-for-4.
It was as close a game as it could be between the teams separated by a point in the NHL standings – albeit in the lower levels of the table.
Both goaltenders, Carolina’s Cam Ward and Columbus’ Sergei Bobrovsky made 29 stops apiece.
However, the Blue Jackets’ 51 recorded hits against a Hurricanes squad that scrapped back with 33 hits, eventually wore the home team down.
Continuing on a scoring tear that carried over from a 7-4 win over Edmonton on Sunday, Justin Faulk, Victor Rask, and Eric Staal all scored during the first period.
Scott Hartnell scored two for the Blue Jackets while Rene Bourque added one.
Carolina took the lead early by picking the right spots to beat Bobrovsky through traffic.
Faulk’s 13th goal of the season hit the top corner on the stick side just 36 seconds after the opening puck drop.
He deked Bourque coming off the right boards and put a shot on net that Bobrovsky didn’t see.
Rask then picked the glove-hand corner when he ripped a shot from the right faceoff circle on the power play.
It was the rookie’s ninth goal of the year and put the Hurricanes ahead 2-0 with 7:13 to play in the period.
After overplaying on Faulk’s goal, Bourque redeemed himself and tipped in a Cam Atkinson shot attempt on Columbus’ first power play and pulled to within one of Carolina.
Just over a minute later, Staal tipped a low shot that defenseman Ryan Murphy wired from the right point.
Staal’s 19th of the season also came with the man-advantage, and with just 10 seconds remaining in the period.
The Hurricanes led 3-1 and it looked as though they were in control of the game.
However, as Bobrovsky got sharper, it looked as though Carolina’s attention to detail lapsed.
The Blue Jackets applied their system, working as a five-man unit in all three zones, just as the Hurricanes did.
Ward worked hard to make stops at even strength, but Hartnell finished his chances in close on the power play.
Eventually, Columbus took advantage of the opportunities they were given.
The Hurricanes suddenly experienced what it was like to hold a commanding lead, only to watch it disappear.
“I thought we stopped working, to be honest with you,” head coach Bill Peters said when asked of the team’s loss of scoring punch following the first period.
“I don’t think we competed as hard and didn’t execute very well with the puck. We seemed to ice it a lot. Maybe thought it was gonna’ be easy, continue to get two or three a period without puttin’ the work in. It doesn’t work that way.”
It unraveled on the penalty kill.
With Riley Nash off for hooking, Hartnell scored his 17th of the season and pulled the Blue Jackets to within one at 2:21 of the second period.
Hartnell followed that up just under four minutes later while Faulk sat in the box for cross checking, and tied the game up 3-3.
Faulk finished the game with three points (1g, 2a), a performance that put him atop of the team’s scoring list, one ahead of Staal.
However, getting First Star accolateds was little consolation to talk about afterwards.
“We just gotta’ stay out of the box,” Faulk said.
“Tough special teams battle tonight. We ended up on the wrong side of it and it cost us the game.”
Following a scoreless overtime period during which Ward made four saves, it was Johansen’s final backhand deke that made the difference.
When it came down to the shootout, Elias Lindholm and Rask couldn’t beat Bobrovsky, but Mark Letestu and Artem Anisimov couldn’t score on Ward either.
Having watched Johansen smoothly lift the puck into the net past a sprawling Ward, it was up to Jeff Skinner to keep it going.
Unfortunately for him, Bobrovsky managed to get a pad out and denied that to happen.
Columbus’ comeback was complete.
“They got better, they built a game on the road, competed harder and took advantage of their power plays,” Peters said.
As far as the NHL’s top-ranked penalty kill was concerned, there was now work to do in the coming days for the Hurricanes.
“We’ve given up more than that – we’ve given up five here in the last two games, right?,” Peters pointed out.
“That’s a lot. That’s a month’s worth. There’s some new people on that and they’re gonna’ have to dig in and have to figure it out. We’re gonna’ have to take which was a strength, which is now a weakness obviously, and turn it back into a strength.”