RALEIGH, N.C. – The Carolina Hurricanes gave themselves some more breathing room following a 2-1 overtime win over the Montreal Canadiens on Sunday.
A 28-save performance by goaltender Curtis McElhinney highlighted a well-contested battle with counterpart Carey Price who made 38 stops as the Hurricanes gained a point on the Habs in the Eastern Conference wildcard standings.
Trevor van Riemsdyk and Andrei Svechnikov scored for Carolina while Paul Byron tallied Montreal’s lone marker.
“They’re a pretty fast, highly skilled team that once they get rollin’, can generate a lot of stuff pretty easily,” McElhinney said.
“He (Price) was phenomenal tonight. Obviously, he’s a one of the best, if not the best, in the game the last little while. It’s always fun playin’ against him. He was on it tonight. I was just tryin’ to keep pace with him.”
Roller coaster ride
Carolina head coach Rod Brind’Amour was happy with the result.
However, for the first 55 minutes, it didn’t look like the Hurricanes’ efforts to beat Price would ever pay off.
“A great ending obviously,” Brind’Amour said.
“Super exciting game – good third period for us, but terrible second. It was kind of a tale of two games. The first period was great, second period was awful, and third period we looked like what we needed to look like.”
After outshooting the Habs 21-13 in the opening period, the Hurricanes were on the receiving end of a second period that required McEelhinney to withstand a barrage of quality shots before the offense reasserted itself late in regulation.
To an extent, it resembled a similar one-game battle the two teams had in Montreal back on Nov. 27, one which McElhinney also won, tying a career-high 48-save effort.
However, instead of the Habs turning up the heat in the third, it was the Hurricanes who did so to even the score.
Good things come to those who wait
Byron’s goal came at the 14:58 mark of the first when he found himself the recipient of a deflected shot from the point that ended up in the low slot that he put away into a yawning net with McElhinney out of position.
The Canadiens carried that 1-0 lead for the majority of the game until van Riemsdyk matched it with his point shot that caromed off a Montreal defender and past Price with 5:39 remaining in the third.
“We were talkin’ about getting pucks to the net. After the second, I don’t think we had that many shots on goal, so that was our focus,” the Carolina defenseman said.
“I just threw it there, I think it hit off them, and it went in.”
Supporting the leader
While leading scorer Sebastian Aho couldn’t beat Price with three solid shot attempts on goal and extended his current goalless drought to seven games, Svechnikov helped fill the void.
Aho helped Carolina maintain puck possession in the Montreal zone for much of the early part of the overtime period until the 18-year old rookie along with Jordan Staal and Justin Faulk took to the ice on a change.
Not long after, Staal tipped the puck forward, winning a battle along the center-ice boards with Montreal’s Brendan Gallagher.
Svechnikov picked it up near the Habs blue line with full speed and didn’t think twice about shooting on Price as he found the gap between the keeper’s pads and scored his 20th goal of the season at the 3:15 mark.
Just a matter of time
The Russian forward became the youngest player in franchise history to post an overtime goal, his career first.
It was also his third goal in his last five games played.
Carolina has won four of those, and not coincidentally, he’s been a big part of that success during the team’s current playoff push.
“I’m super confident right now,” Svechnikov said of his play.
“I go out there and play my game and just enjoy.”
“It’s been comin’, right? We’ve been sayin’ it all year,” the coach said.
“Throwin’ him out in key situations – in overtime. You love the confidence that he has. He feels it. He’s earned the right to be out there.”
Every win is valuable now
With seven games remaining, Carolina holds the first wildcard spot, three points ahead of Montreal with one game in-hand in the conference, and two points with a game in-hand behind third place Pittsburgh in the Metropolitan Division.
With Columbus on the outside looking in and seven points behind their wildcard spot, the Hurricanes need to continue to accumulate points in order to increase that separation.
In doing so, they will end the NHL’s longest current playoff appearance drought of nine years.
Peter Koutroumpis: 401-323-8960, @pksport