RALEIGH, N.C. – The Carolina Hurricanes provided 14,134 in attendance at PNC Arena reason to celebrate bringing in the New Year early on Thursday.
Fueled by a third period scoring surge, the Hurricanes ended the Washington Capitals’ recent nine-game winning streak, beating the NHL’s Eastern Conference leader 4-2.
Jeff Skinner’s game-winner along with goals from Phil Di Giuseppe, Eric Staal, and Andrej Nestrasil made the difference.
Hurricanes goaltender Eddie Lack made 30 stops and earned his fifth win of the season, while Philipp Grubauer posted the loss while facing 36 shots for the Capitals.
The win was a special one for Lack.
“It was just important for me to get that first home win, you know,” he said.
“It’s been a while and I’ve been battling for it. My dad’s in town, so obviously it was fun getting it in front of him too.”
Carolina’s ability to keep one of the league’s best road teams in check didn’t come easy.
Structured play led by the line of Jordan Staal, Andrej Nestrasil and Joakim Nordstrom was needed to post the win.
“Jordo’s line has been very good for a long time,” Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters said.
“They’re good in both zones – they generate chances, they’re big, they’re heavy. Nesty hangs on to pucks, and Nordy, I think, is comin’. He’s got confidence, makes plays, and he’s got unbelievable desire.”
The Hurricanes’ other lines followed suit in digging hard for the puck, looking for open spaces to move it to, and eventually generated scoring chances from it.
It was a focus of attention that Peters talked about following the pregame skate in the morning.
“This team is a very good team that we just played,” Peters said.
“They did a good job and they had a really hard push in the third, and I thought our guys handled it real well also.”
The opening period finished scoreless as both Lack and Grubauer made critical stops as Carolina outshot Washington 11-8.
Even with a power play late in the period, Carolina lost focus and turned it over at times.
While not costly, the giveaways wasted time with the man-advantage, with only a few quality shots on net earned from it.
One of those included Staal ringing the post, not once, but twice as the power play neared its end.
Carolina would get two more man-advantage opportunities during the second period, but ended up 0-for-3 on the power play overall.
Both teams’ compete level and aggression in fighting for loose pucks picked up during the middle period.
The Hurricanes outshot the Caps 20-8 by the time their hard work finally paid off as Di Giuseppe scored his third goal of the season at the 7:48 mark.
“You have to get shots on net,” the rookie forward said.
“We went over it – they haven’t allowed more than two goals in the last seven or nine games, I think. It was important to get pucks to the net.”
Staal carried the majority of the load on the play as he won the faceoff in his zone and carried the puck through the neutral zone and across the Washington blue line where he dished it off to Nordstrom who fed Di Giuseppe in the slot.
“Nordy made a great play, Jordo made a great play gettin’ up the ice, and I just tried to get it on net,” Di Giuseppe said.
Di Giuseppe made no mistake with the opportunity as his one-timer got some help, traveling along Grubauer’s paddle, off his shoulder, and into the net and put Carolina ahead 1-0.
“I just saw it in the back of the net,” he said.
“On the replay I saw it went off the goalie’s stick, so it was a little lucky bounce, but you know, it was a great play.”
It didn’t take the Caps long to respond as Nicklas Backstrom wired a shot over Lack’s trapper to even the score 1-1 two minutes later.
After losing his stick in the neutral zone, T.J. Oshie controlled the puck with his skates, soccer-style, until he kicked it back to the Caps defense as Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner started the play from the Washington zone.
Backstrom carried the puck through the top of the Carolina zone and netted his 11th goal of the season.
After killing off Carolina’s third man-advantage, Washington showed an exceptional surge in energy that required Lack to be sharp.
The keeper remained focused and made back-to-back saves on Brooks Laich, and kept the game tied at one apiece through the second intermission.
Hurricanes captain Eric Staal put Carolina ahead 51 seconds into the final period.
His eighth goal of the season came on a redirect that barely made it over the goal line.
Play was allowed to continue until the 1:19 mark when it was finally stopped, and Staal’s shot on goal was reviewed by the referee and subsequently ruled to be a good goal.
Forward Riley Nash was an offensive catalyst for Carolina as well.
He made some notable plays throughout the game including setting up Skinner’s game winner at the 5:16 mark of the third period.
Skating with the puck behind the net, Nash slid a pass to Skinner who was open at the top of Grubauer’s crease.
From there, Skinner one-timed his 15th goal of the season into the net and put Carolina ahead 3-1.
Washington responded nine minutes later when Alex Ovechkin scored his 21st of the season.
After Laich created a turnover in the Carolina zone, Ovechkin got possession of the puck and snapped a shot past Lack in the exact same spot Backstrom did, and cut Carolina’s lead to 3-2.
Washington put on a tremendous push to even the score, but Lack defended his net successfully.
Eventually, it was Staal, Nestrasil, and Nordstrom who helped to alleviate the pressure during the game’s final minutes.
The Hurricanes made quick line changes and shut down the neutral zone as best they could while Grubauer went to the bench for the extra skater.
Flipping the puck upwards to kill more time, Nestrasil’s backhander made it the length of the ice and into the net with 18 seconds left.
Earning the hard fought win, Lack concluded, “now we’re gonna celebrate the New Year and get back at it tomorrow.”