RALEIGH, N.C. – It wasn’t coach Rod Brind’Amour who lit the spark under the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night.
No, he let former world-champion boxer Evander Holyfield do that before the team stepped onto the ice at PNC Arena.
The result was a convincing 5-2 KO of the St. Louis Blues, handing them just their second regulation loss in their last 16 games.
The Justins, Williams and Faulk, along with Sebastian Aho, Jordan Staal, and Andrei Svechnikov posted goals, while goalkeeper Curtis McElhinny made 21 saves to record his fourth win in his last five starts.
Oskar Sundqvist and Vince Dunn tallied the Blues goals as netminder Jake Allen suffered the loss with a 19-save performance.
“A good battle – you kind of knew what was comin’,” Brind’Amour said afterwards.
“They’re a great team right now, firin’ on all cylinders. I think we are too – playing very similar styles. That’s what you saw out there.”
Outworking the opponent
While the Hurricanes’ and Blues’ blueprint for success was the same, both holding equal records (34-23-6 – 74 points) comprised of impressive winning streaks coming in, the difference when all was said and done came in the execution.
“If you wanna win, you gotta take it,” Holyfield told Carolina’s lineup.
“If you outwork that guy, and minimize your mistakes, it’s impossible to lose.”
The outcome eventually showcased the Hurricanes’ ability to first take possession of the puck, winning 58-percent of all draws taken.
They then capitalized on opportunities the Blues presented them.
It was an entertaining display of skating, forechecking, defensive gapping, and opportunistic goal scoring.
The Hurricanes led 2-1 after the first and presented the Blues with a scenario they hadn’t experienced in 33 games – allowing two-plus goals after the opening 20 minutes of play.
Williams and Faulk scored three minutes apart in answer to Sundqvist’s game-opening goal at 6:59 following puck drop.
St. Louis quickly evened it up just past the two-minute mark in the second on Dunn’s fluttering point shot that eluded McElhinney.
That was the only offense St. Louis could muster up, a few goals, a low threshold they’ve maintained for the last five games.
“It was a tight hockey game, we never really got to our game, or controlled the offensive zone,” Blues coach Craig Berube said.
“They did a really good job not giving us any room.”
Indeed, finding space in the Carolina zone wasn’t easy, but St. Louis had its chances.
McElhinney and his defense, which included Charlotte call-up Haydn Fleury in to replace the injured Calvin de Haan, made the stops necessary and didn’t make costly mistakes.
No, the Blues did instead.
Aho’s 26th goal of the year, a shorthanded marker and the eventual game-winner, came about after Allen misplayed the puck deep in the Blues end zone.
In pursuit of the puck on the kill, an unexpected ricochet off the kick plate portion of the boards set the young Finn in perfect position to skate behind the net and finish the wraparound effort into an empty net at the 13:03 mark.
Carrying the 3-2 lead into the third, Staal’s goal, his third point in three games since returning from injury, was the punch that put St. Louis reeling back on its heels midway through the period.
Svechnikov’s empty-netter finally finished the Blues off with a minute to play.
“Big challenge for us tonight,” McElhinney said.
“Everybody was ready to go from the drop. Obviously, St. Louis has been playin’ some good hockey. Phenomenal effort, a couple of weird bounces, but other than that I think we played a great game.”
“Tonight was a battle of wills,” Brind’Amour concluded.
“Both teams playing hard – we’re playin’ hard, fightin’ for our lives. That might’ve been the difference.”
Peter Koutroumpis: 401-323-8960, @pksport