RALEIGH, N.C. – Defensemen John-Michael Liles and Justin Faulk made the difference in propelling the Carolina Hurricanes to their second consecutive victory, a 4-1 decision, over the Dallas Stars at PNC Arena on Thursday.
Justin Faulk’s fifth goal of the season turned out to be the eventual game-winner while Eric Staal, Liles and Riley Nash tallied the other goals that eventually outdistanced the Hurricanes from the Stars during the final two periods of play.
It was a goaltenders’ duel throughout the first period as starters Anton Khudobin (Carolina) and Kari Lehtonen (Dallas) kept both sides scoreless by making numerous well-positioned and dynamic saves.
Khudobin finished the game with 33 saves while Lehtonen made 13 stops on 16 shots before relinquishing the crease to Tim Thomas who finished the game making 15 saves on 16 additional shots faced from the 9:13 mark in the second period when he took over in the Dallas net.
”He’s been coming up with some big saves,” Hurricanes head coach Kirk Muller said of Khudobin.
“We’re gettin’ the goaltending right now every night.”
During the fourth minute of play, Khudobin’s blocker save on Dustin Jeffrey kept both teams fighting to take the early lead.
A minute later, Lehtonen made an impressive glove save of his own, snagging Jeff Skinner’s snap shot from the wing that he unleashed as a result of turning away from Dallas defenseman Brendan Dillon to create space to do so.
Linemate Elias Lindholm wasn’t able to get his stick on the rebound and play continued at both ends with each netminder credited with keeping the excitement level high for the 15,730 in attendance.
Faced with killing off a Nathan Gerbe tripping penalty with 13 seconds remaining in the first period, Khudobin made another blocker save on a Jamie Benn snap shot from inside the blue line that kept the game scoreless while both teams headed to their dressing rooms for the first intermission.
“As a goalie, you need to makes saves and stops to make sure that you settle down your teammates and put them in the game,” Khudobin said.
“This is that type of game that I did my part and they did their part.”
Special teams play ultimately made the difference for Carolina, finishing 2-for-5 with the man-advantage as Faulk and Liles both tallied their markers on the power play.
Liles led all scorers with three points (1 g, 2 a) on the night, and tallied his first three-point game since Jan. 18, 2011, while becoming the first Hurricanes defenseman to earn at least three points in a period since Bret Hedican did it back on Oct. 24, 2007.
While it looked like all was clicking from the back end with Liles and Faulk leading the way, the Hurricanes had to scramble to fill the roster as a result of recent injury issues.
Defenseman Andrej Sekera skated during the warmup for the game, but did not play against Dallas as a result of a lower body injury which subsequently prompted the need to insert Mike Komisarek into the lineup.
Up front, forwards Alexander Semin and Jiri Tlusty didn’t play and required emergency call-ups of Chris Terry and Zach Boychuk from the team’s American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers.
The opportunity bode particularly well for Terry who earned his first two NHL assists in the game – both on both the power play.
While Boychuk filled a supporting role on the fourth line, the AHL’s recently named player of the month for March and the Checkers’ scoring leader lauded the efforts of his teammate.
“That’s what he does,” Boychuk said of Terry.
“He makes plays on the power play and has done that all season in Charlotte. To see that translate in the NHL, it’s good for him.”
Starting the second period still scoreless, both teams worked to get shots on net and Carolina eventually opened the game’s scoring.
Liles’ point shot caromed off the back of Eric Staal’s right leg, up into the air and eventually fell behind Lehtonen and into the net to put the Hurricanes ahead 1-0 at the 2:30 mark.
Shortly afterwards, Carolina got its first power play opportunity of the game.
The Hurricanes’ first extra-man unit got a quality shot on goal, but it was the second unit that extended the lead to 2-0 at 4:08 on Faulk’s point shot.
Terry worked the puck from the corner to Liles at the point, and he then passed it across the top of the faceoff circles to where Faulk stood ready to tee up a slap shot that beat Lehtonen high.
Liles extended the Carolina lead to 3-0 with a wrist shot from the point courtesy or a cross-zone pass from Terry on the second consecutive power play opportunity of the period, scoring his second goal of the season with 12:54 remaining in the period.
“I think we’ve had a good stretch of games here,” Liles said of the power play’s success against the Stars.
“We’ve gotten into some consistent rhythm in terms of units. That unit with Harrison, Skinner, Nash and Lindholm has been really good. This other unit, just a matter of being sure we’re all on the same page. A lot of times you deal with injuries and you deal with a lot of different personnel. Tonight we were all on the same page.”
Trailing by three goals, Dallas coach Lindy Ruff then pulled Lehtonen and replaced him with Thomas while sending a message to his team.
The change yielded results for the Stars just over a minute later.
Tyler Seguin got a tape-to-tape, cross-ice pass from Valeri Nichushkin in the neutral zone, came in on the off-wing, and beat Khudobin on the short side to cut the Carolina lead to 3-1 with 10:16 remaining in the period.
Khudobin continued to deny Dallas repeated chances to score for the remainder of the period as Carolina maintained its two-goal lead.
However, with 13 seconds left, forward Nathan Gerbe was assessed a tripping penalty and provided the Stars some hope that they could pull within one when they returned to the ice from the second intermission.
Just 33 seconds into the third, Khudobin made a critical save on Alex Chiasson’s point-blank shot on net a perfect set up pass from Benn that could have swung the tempo of the game to Dallas’ favor.
Khudobin made three more stops on the penalty kill and continued to stonewall the Stars until Nash beat Thomas high with his 10th goal of the season to extend the Carolina lead to 4-1 with 12:20 to play.
After Skinner put the puck on net, it eventually worked its way to the right point where Brett Bellemore unleashed a shot that Thomas stopped, but gave up a big rebound which Nash got a hold of before picking his spot high to further extend the Hurricanes lead and finalize the game’s scoring.