Jordan Staal and Sebastian Aho provided the offense as the Hurricanes won their second game in a row while they extended the Oilers’ losing skid to three games.
Two of the league’s most worked goalkeepers, Ward and Talbot faced 25 and 23 shots, respectively with Ward picking up his sixth career regular-season win over the Oilers in 12 starts while Talbot suffered his first loss in five games against the Hurricanes.
Consistent structure in all three zones was critical to Carolina minimizing McDavid’s and Edmonton’s speed and skill, and maximizing their chances to beat Talbot.
“I thought it was a very good hockey game all the way around – both teams,” Carolina head coach Bill Peters said.
“You gotta believe in what you do as a team – the structure, the system protects the individuals. I thought everyone did a good job. Everybody played a little bit against him, and if you noticed, they only iced it twice and they came over the top with his line and had some trouble against tired guys. And that’s that advantage – that’s all he needs or that line needs – it’s a real good line.”
As a result of a holding penalty to Carolina defenseman Brett Pesce at the 7:19 mark of the first period, Edmonton outshot Carolina 5-1 by the midpoint, peppering Ward with a few shots with the man-advantage that he denied to keep the game scoreless.
Staal opened the scoring at 11:36, finishing a tic-tac-toe set-up that originated with Jacob Slavin’s pass from the point to Elias Lindholm beind the goal line.
Lindholm quickly redirected the pass into the slot as Staal skated towards the net and tucked the puck past Talbot, scoring his 11th goal of the season.
Edmonton outshot Carolina 9-5 as the Hurricanes carried their one-goal lead into the second period.
After the Oilers couldn’t convert on another power play with Aho in the box for hooking, McDavid took advantage of a line change to even the score.
After breaking his stick and going to the bench to get a new one, McDavid got a blueline-to-blueline pass from Oscar Klefbom as both teams made changes.
Lindholm was the nearest Hurricane to challenge the Oilers captain as he approached towards Ward.
Fending off Lindholm with his body, McDavid elevated the puck over the keeper’s trapper-side shoulder with a well-placed backhand shot that tied the score 1-1 at the 8:04 mark.
It was McDavid’s 18th goal of the season which pushed him to 60 total points, and made him the first in the league to reach that plateau this season.
“I saw a lot of speed,” Ward said in describing the goal.
“Because of that speed, I thought with my momentum, I backed up a little too fast. It’s tough when a player’s on his backhand like that because you never really know when he’s going to release it. I was kind of cheating, thinking he was gonna bring it back to his forehand. Obviously he didn’t.”
It was McDavid’s first visit to the City of Oaks, having missed the opportunity to play against the Hurricanes last season as a result of a shoulder injury.
Having gone pointless in the Oilers’ past two games, he ended that short drought in front of the 12,512 in attendance – Oilers and Hurricanes fans alike – who were able to witness it firsthand.
“He’s a special player to watch – a lot of fun to watch,” Peters added.
“If I’m a fan of hockey and I get a chance to go watch that player play, I’m payin’ my money.”
Though trying on numerous shot attempts, neither team was able to claim the lead and skated to the second intermission still tied.
It was all McDavid or Edmonton would provide in terms of offense for the remainder of the game, and allowed the spotlight to shine on Aho for the second game in a row in front of the home crowd.
Carolina earned its only power play of the game during the first minute of play in the third period and the red-hot rookie made it pay off.
With Lindholm parked at the top of the crease to set the screen, defenseman Justin Faulk slid Aho a pass from the point which he one-timed past Talbot.
Tuevo Teravainen also earned an assist on the forward’s 16th goal of the season which gave the Hurricanes a 2-1 lead at the 1:48 mark and turned out to be the eventual game-winner.
“Both teams played pretty fast,” Aho said.
“We played pretty tight and it was a pretty good hockey game. I’m just glad we won…We talked a lot about the PP and practiced it many times. I think it’s getting better all the time and we moved the puck faster and played with high pace.”
While Carolina got just enough offense to pull out the win to even the season series with the Oilers, the more important point was that it met the challenge to secure it defensively for much of the final period.
“I think the key for us was not allowing them to play on the offensive side,” Slavin said.
“I think, for the most part, all game, our forwards did a good job of keeping them in their zone, and limiting their opportunities coming back. When they did come back with speed, our forwards were backchecking and getting back and helping us out…We didn’t give them much of anything tonight. Wardo played a heckuva game. We had a few posts that saved us too, but for the most part, we did a good job in limiting their Grade A chances.”