RALEIGH, N.C. – Special teams were the highlights of the night and featured Sebastian Aho’s two power play goals that made the difference for the Carolina Hurricanes as they topped the New York Rangers 4-3 at PNC Arena on Thursday.
Scoring all three of their goals on the power play, the Rangers dominated play in terms of shot production, outgunning Carolina 43-30 throughout.
However, even while allowing a season-high in extra-man goals against, netminder Cam Ward’s 40-save performance was critical to the Carolina victory.
Ward, who last posted a win back on Feb. 4th, made many saves when he needed to, even as he succumbed to shots playing shorthanded that eluded him.
“He was big,” Carolina head coach Bill Peters said of his netminder.
“I thought he was really good. He made some big saves when we needed them, and a couple of them – nothing you could do on the 5-on-3. He was good.”
The Hurricanes fell behind 1-0, the result of Chris Kreider’s 26th goal of the season on the man-advantage that put New York ahead 1-0 at the 7:24 mark of the first period.
Then goals from Jeff Skinner and rookie forward Valentin Zykov 29 seconds apart gave Carolina its first lead of the game which it carried into the second period.
After Victor Rask picked up the puck as the result of a Rangers turnover inside their blue line, he found Skinner open to finish an impressive forehand-to-backhand deke that beat goalkeeper Antti Raanta, who eventually finished the game with 26 saves.
It was Skinner’s team-leading 21st goal of the season.
Starting the game a little nervous, the young Russian forward described the score as “kind of a relief.”
“I tried to be calm and do what I gotta do,” he said.
“I felt more comfortable and tried to play it simple.”
Zykov played alongside Jordan Staal and Aho, who both helped to set up his rebound opportunity that beat Raanta with 6:16 to play in the first period.
“The only thing I can say is it makes life easier – they are very good players. It’s not hard to play with them.”
New York remained relentless in its pursuit of regaining the lead, and eventually did so as back-to-back power play goals from Mika Zibanejad at the 7:16 and 16:42 marks put the Rangers ahead 3-2.
Having been in a similar position – down by a goal heading into the third period – many times, Carolina managed to take advantage of the extra-man opportunities they were afforded and Aho converted on them twice, just over three minutes apart.
The first, a blast from the point, made it past a blocked Raanta with Elias Lindholm parked just outside the top of the crease.
Even while challenged by Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault, it was deemed that the goaltender initiated contacted with Lindholm outside of the crease area.
Vigneault was not happy about the decision to let the goal stand with the game tied 3-3.
“In my opinion, it was the wrong call and at the end of the day we didn’t play well enough in the third period. We got outplayed and they came back and scored two power play goals.”
Aho completed the game’s scoring on a tic-tac-toe finish from Lindholm and Staal at the 12:28 mark.
Scoring his 19th and 20th goals of the season, Aho still sits third amongst all rookies in goals scored, trailing only Patrik Laine and Auston Matthews.
“It’s always nice to get some goals and wins,” Aho concluded.
“It’s been tough to score goals for us, but I think it’s all about confidence. I hope we can build on something from this.”
While earning its second win in three games, but just the third in its last 10, Peters felt good about his team’s play, particularly in scoring on 2-of-4 power play opportunities.
“It has been a tough stretch, and tonight we found a way,” he said.
“There was some offense here tonight which is important – huge response on the power play. Hopefully that continues.”