Extending their point streak to a franchise-record 13 games (9-0-4), defenseman Noah Hanifin’s game-winning goal at 2:16 in overtime gave the Hurricanes a critical 2-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets at PNC Arena on Thursday.
Carolina had little room for error and needed to earn both valuable points, sitting four behind the Boston Bruins, squatters in the final Eastern Conference wildcard spot at the start of the night.
Jeff Skinner continued to be the catalyst for Carolina’s offense as he finished with a goal and an assist, scoring Carolina’s first goal with 4:20 remaining in regulation time, and earning an assist on Hanifin’s first career overtime winner.
Defenseman Jack Johnson scored the lone goal for the Blue Jackets as Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward made 23 saves and earned his second consecutive win and continued the undefeated trend that Eddie Lack had carried until getting injured against Detroit on Monday.
Trailing 1-0 after two periods and with both teams racking up 18 shots apiece on net, it was ‘go time’ for the Hurricanes during the third.
“I felt like it was comin’,” Carolina head coach Bill Peters said.
“I thought we pushed pretty good in the third. I thought they were better than us early in the game, probably the first 10-12 minutes. Then once we got skating – it was even across the board – it was that kind of game. It was just tight.”
Following a scoreless opening period, and what was approaching to be an equally similar result in the second, Johnson, a former Carolina draft pick, got a pass from Scott Hartnell and released a quick snipe of a shot that cleanly picked the corner above Ward’s trapper.
With the goal, Columbus led 1-0 at 16:25 mark of the period.
Sitting in the dressing room with a one-goal deficit to overcome in 20 minutes, the Hurricanes didn’t lose faith in one another according to Peters.
In a postgame interview, Ward used the word resilient to describe the nature of the team that played in front of him and pulled off the victory in such a dramatic fashion.
“That’s appropriate for sure, you know,” Peters said.
“The guys believe and the guys are playin’ hard. They’re playin’ hard for each other too.”
“Just tryin’ to build good things in our game,” Skinner added.
“Obviously, they’re a good team. They’ve had some success – they play a tough style of hockey to generate offense, and they were doing that well tonight against us. But, you just gotta stick with it. You gotta believe in the guys. Every night we’ve sorta had someone else step up. Hanny did a good job tonight steppin’ up for us.”
Skinner tied it up when his shot towards Korpisalo’s net looked to go wide, but ricocheted off Columbus defenseman Seth Jones’ skate and in.
The goal ignited the crowd of 11,881 and breathed new life into the Hurricanes.
They carried that momentum into the overtime period until Hanifin wound up from the middle of the slot following Skinner’s attempted initial shot attempt following a drive to the net.
Korpisalo had no chance of stopping the blast.
Skinner looked over at Hanifin, smiling while commenting about the young blueliner afterwards.
“It’s huge,” Skinner said.
“It gives everyone in the room a boost. You look at the way this roll has gone, and every night it’s a different guy steppin’ up. He’s a pretty good, young D-man who’s gonna have a bright future. He’s done a great job I think, and the extra minutes he’s been gettin’ over the last little while, he’s only getting’ better. So hopefully he can keep it goin’, and then we can keep this thing goin’ as a group.”
Scoring in the fashion that he did was the way Hanifin saw the play coming.
“It was a really good play by Skinny – just getting it to the net again,” he said.
“There was a good rebound there, so I was just comin’ down the slot and tried to rip it as hard as I could, and it went in. I was pretty happy about it.
“You always dream of those overtime goals. It was my first one in the NHL – it was pretty special. Even more important, it was a huge win for our team, so it was great.”
Notes: Still sitting four points behind Boston with 84 points, and also winners on the night, Carolina leapt over the New York Islanders (82 points), and with six games remaining must more or less run the table to have a chance at earning a spot for the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons. Also competing for the same wildcard spot is the Tampa Bay Lightning, sitting one point ahead of the Hurricanes with 85 points. Carolina looks to continue its point-gaining streak against Dallas at PNC on Saturday.