Aho, Ryan contribute to team’s sixth straight win at home
By Peter Koutroumpis
RALEIGH, N.C. – The Carolina Hurricanes are on a roll – a momentum shift that they’ve been waiting to find and jump up on all season.
With Derek Ryan and Sebastian Aho contributing goals, the Hurricanes dangled a one-goal differential from the grasp of the defending Stanley Cup-champion Pittsburgh Penguins in front of 17,975 in attendance at PNC Arena on Friday.
Scoring two goals in the second period, Carolina’s 2-1 win led by a 28-save performance from starting goalkeeper Cam Ward gave the team its seventh win in eight games and sixth straight at home.
It was the first of four meetings between the Metropolitan Division opponents that garnered a valuable two points for the home side.
“For the most part we managed the puck pretty good,” Carolina head coach Bill Peters said.
“They pushed though too. They’ve got the ability to push when they’re rollin’ 87 and 71 all the time. I thought the guys did a good job. I though on the back end there was good compete and battle, and Wardo was solid.”
Carolina had to work to get on the right side of this one after falling behind early.
Defenseman Brian Dumoulin, a former Hurricanes draft pick, opened the game’s scoring at the 4:34 mark of the first when he rattled a shot off the post and put the Penguins up 1-0.
Though the Hurricanes outshot the Penguins 12-7 following 20 minutes, netminder Tristan Jarry was up to the task of challenging shooters to beat him as he eventually made 31 saves in the losing effort.
Continuing to pressure the Pittsburgh defense which was devoid of blueliners Kris Letang and Justin Schultz, a rush from center by Elias Lindholm pulled Jarry out of his crease to the left and allowed Ryan to tuck the puck into the net on Lindholm’s follow-up feed from behind the net.
The goal, his eighth of the season, was Ryan’s birthday gift to himself and the team that evened the score 1-1 at 6:25 of the second.
“A birthday goal and a birthday win, those are the two big things that we wanted tonight,” Ryan said smiling with his young son sitting beside him.
“Obviously against a great team, I thought we played a great game and battled our way to two points.”
Later in the period, with Ryan and Brock McGinn keeping Jarry screened with Pittsburgh defenseman Frankie Corrado and forward Carter Rowney in the mix, Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin ripped a point shot into the top corner.
However, following a coach’s challenge by Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan, the goal was disallowed due to goaltender interference on what appeared as contact with Jarry on Ryan’s part.
It was a close call, “55-45, 60-40,” according to Peters.
Nonetheless, it didn’t take long for Carolina to recover from that disappointment as Aho put the Hurricanes ahead 2-1 with 1:55 remaining in the period on the very next offensive sequence.
The sophomore forward’s 11th goal of the season also eventually became his third game-winner.
“Both teams played super-fast and it was a physical game – a great hockey game,” Aho stated.
“I think we have good confidence right now and we just have to keep it going.”
Ward made many stops to preserve the win – most notably a pad save on Pittsburgh’s Jake Guentzal early in the third period which was both a critical and impressive one.
Then with Jarry out of the net with 1:24 remaining, the Hurricanes withstood a final 6-on-5 push from the Penguins’ top snipers.
Usually reliable Pittsburgh offensive catalysts Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby were held to two and one shot, respectively, while Phil Kessel had four shots that couldn’t beat Ward throughout the game.
It was Pittsburgh’s sixth loss in its last 10 games, and an opportunity gained for Carolina to jump ahead in the NHL standings and pull to within one point of a wildcard spot.
“They played a pretty simple game,” Sullivan said.
“They’re a speed team; they’re a young team that can really skate. They didn’t try to make fancy plays through the neutral zone. They didn’t force things, they played North-South, straight-ahead, and put the puck behind us and forechecked.”
Thus, while the Penguins continued to toil through their troubles, the Hurricanes seemed to have found and continued to build on their simple foundation for success.
“It’s been everyone,” captain Jordan Staal said.
“I think it started with some goaltending. Then the D-corps has been a lot more solid. The forwards have been playin’ solid too – it’s been everybody. It’s been our work ethic, believing in what we want to do, and stickin’ with it.
Peter Koutroumpis: 401-323-8960, @pksport