RALEIGH, N.C. – Rookie forward Sebastian Aho carried the load and led all scorers with four points and fueled the Carolina Hurricanes past the Philadelphia Flyers by a 5-1 margin at PNC Arena on Tuesday.
Aho’s first career hat trick went along with an assist on a Justin Faulk power play goal, while Jeff Skinner ended a recent six-game pointless streak with his team-leading 18th goal of the season.
All of that supported a 16-save winning effort from goaltender Cam Ward while Philadelphia netminder Steve Mason was peppered with 28 shots.
The win snapped the Hurricanes’ recent five-game losing streak, and the fewest shots allowed this season to date showcased the defensive play that head coach Bill Peters desired and was impressed with.
“I thought our good defense, and our ability to defend and not spend much time in our zone led to the offense,” Peters said.
“The power play kicked in and got us two, but defensively, I thought we were solid.”
Aho’s three goals, Nos. 13, 14, and 15 on the season couldn’t have come at a more opportune time as a number of players had hit scoreless stretches recently.
“He’s a good player,” Peters added.
“Credit to him to be able to get acclimated to the NHL game and get acclimated to North America. A good player, a smart player, very competitive kid – he’s got a very good skill set and can play multiple positions up and down the lineup. He’s comin’ (along) for sure.”
It was a game during which Carolina didn’t exhibit the bad defensive habits that held it victim to blowout losses before the NHL All-Star break.
Instead, the Hurricanes played their style of relentless puck pursuit and possession and took advantage of opportunities that presented themselves.
Carolina outworked and outchanced Philadelphia throughout the opening period, outshooting the Flyers 8-4.
Alternate captain Jordan Staal, playing in his 300th game with Carolina, helped set up Aho’s first goal.
Staal’s work on the forecheck paid off for the young Finn as he received a pass into the high slot after coming on from a line change.
With momentum, Aho dangled backhand-to-forehand and beat Mason and gave the Hurricanes a 1-0 lead at the 7:11 mark.
A one-time redirect by Philadelphia winger Michael Raffl had a chance to tie it soon after, but a sliding pad save by Ward denied that.
Aho put Carolina ahead 2-0 with 3:23 remaining in the period when his other linemate, Elias Lindholm, set him up with a cross-ice pass that he one-timed from the right faceoff dot past a sprawling Mason.
“It was a good line,” Aho said.
“Two really good players; I like playing with those guys.”
Ward remained steady in the net and flashed his leather to snag Andrew MacDonald’s point shot as the period came to an end with the Hurricanes’ two-goal lead intact.
Carolina carried its skating momentum and puck possession into the second period, continuing to outwork Philadelphia.
Mason had to stay sharp, facing shots quickly and consistently as the Hurricanes earned three power play opportunities during the period.
Jeff Skinner extended the Hurricanes lead to three with 3:32 remaining after Mason stoned him on a deke seconds earlier.
Linemate Lee Stempniak collected the puck after Skinner threw it back towards Mason’s right post and found the forward open in the left circle.
Skinner wristed a shot that beat Mason and scored a goal that was important to the forward and the coach.
“It’s nice to contribute to the win when you go that long without producing,” Skinner said.
“It can get a little frustrating, especially when your team’s not winning. It’s part of my role to produce and help the team win, and we weren’t doin’ that the last little while. It’s good to get one”
““We need Skinny,” Peters added.
“We need our veteran guys – he is a veteran guy, he’s still a young guy, but he’s been around a long time. We need the (Justin) Faulks. We need the (Jeff) Skinners. We need those guys. The (Victor) Rasks of the world, even though they’ve been around the National League for three years – we need those guys to produce. Those are our core guys moving forward, and obviously your best players have to be your best players. When they go, we go.”
Aho then claimed his first career NHL hat trick when Lindholm found him wide open in the left circle to beat Mason with a top-shelf finish.
At the other end, Ward didn’t see many shots during the period, while the Hurricanes carried their 4-0 lead into the second intermission after outshooting the Flyers by a 12-2 margin.
Things continued to play to Carolina’s favor in the third as simultaneous penalties to Matt Read and Nick Cousins provided the Hurricanes with a 5-on-3 man-advantage.
As the puck rotated through the power play unit, from Tuevo Teravainen to Aho to Faulk, the puck finally found its way past Mason and extended the lead to 5-0.
Having only put six shots on goal up to the midpoint of the third period, Brayden Schenn finally beat Ward on a Philadelphia power play that ended his shutout bid with 9:33 remaining.
A tripping penalty to Staal provided the Flyers with more opportunities to score, but Ward stopped whatever came his way and kept the Hurricanes’ four-goal lead intact.
Even while finally finding their legs, the Flyers’ efforts came too little and too late.
Carolina reestablished the type of game it wanted to start the final third of the schedule with – at the right pace and with the desired result.
“We wanted to stay on them,” Staal said.
“We know they’re a dangerous team. They can score with the best of ‘em. We wanted to continue to take it to ‘em, and make sure they didn’t get any life. I thought we did a good job of that.”