By Peter Koutroumpis
RALEIGH, N.C. – Unable to string together wins early during their recent road trip, the Carolina Hurricanes finally pieced something together.
Goals from Jordan Staal and Noah Hanifin were enough to beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 2-1 at PNC Arena on Saturday, and extended the Hurricanes’ win streak to three games, their longest of the season.
Following a 5-4 overtime triumph over the Buffalo Sabres the night before, Carolina held off the Blue Jackets thanks to goaltender Scott Darling’s 35-save performance.
It was Darling’s first victory since a 4-3 overtime decision over Nashville back on Nov. 26th.
“He gave us a chance to build a game,” Carolina head coach Bill Peters said.
“They outshot us two-to-one (16-8 SOG) and had some zone time, we looked a little bit of a fatigued team at that time, and we built a game and got better; so credit for him to give us that opportunity.”
Blue Jackets starter Sergei Bobrovsky made 22 saves in the losing effort as in-close tap-ins eluded him, and were enough to provide the razor-thin edge the Hurricanes claimed the advantage with.
“I think a win like this just helps with the mentality, just stickin’ with it,” Staal said.
“It was a tight game and somethin’ that if you continue to play with game and believe that it’s gonna happen, you’re gonna find ways to win. Obviously, doin’ it the right way and not cheatin’.”
Staal opened the game’s scoring at the 3:40 mark of the first period when his intended pass through the crease was redirected past Bobrovsky by Columbus defenseman Jack Johnson.
The attempt to intercept his feed to Brock McGinn gave Staal his ninth goal of the season with linemates Justin Williams and McGinn earning assists on the play.
”That was a good bounce,” Staal said.
“We created the play, but definitely a nice bounce our way, and we’ll take it.”
Alexander Wennberg eventually tied it up with 7:59 remaining in the period when he redirected Cam Atkinson’s pass between Darling’s pads.
With the score still tied through the early part of the second, Hanifin was quick to follow up on a rebound off Derek Ryan’s shot on goal on a play initiated by Jeff Skinner at 12:58.
It was a similar look to his overtime goal against Florida the last time the Hurricanes played at home.
Scoring his sixth of the season, the Hurricanes blueliner continued to lead the team’s defensive corps with 16 points on the season.
“I don’t know what it is, but I think all of my goals have been within five feet of the crease,” Hanifin said.
“It was good play, 4-on-4, a good opportunity to make some offensive plays. Doc (Ryan) made a good play to try and get it to the net. I think there was a deflection off their D-man. It was a good bounce, but especially a good effort 4-on-4.”
Getting another game-winner continued to show Hanifin’s upward progress according to Peters.
“He’s a young kid, he’s not quite 21 (years old) yet, and gettin’ better in every aspect of the game,” he said.
“He’s gettin’ some experience now and getting’ stronger as he goes.”
Facing Columbus’ power play, currently the worst in the NHL, fortunately didn’t hurt Carolina as the Hurricanes completed four successful penalty kills on the night.
The win concluded the two teams’ four-game season series with Carolina (14-11-7) earning six of eight points against its Metropolitan Division foe, along with Darling earning his first career decision over the Blue Jackets.
“It’s huge,” the goalkeeper concluded.
“It’s been awhile since I won a game. A couple of OT losses, a couple of close games. It feels good to win.”
Peter Koutroumpis: 401-323-8960, @pksport