RALEIGH, N.C. – An early start and a strong finish was enough for the Carolina Hurricanes to post a win on Easter Sunday.
Meeting the New Jersey Devils for the fifth and final time this season, Victor Rask’s two-goal finish helped lead an energetic and productive start that ended with a 3-2 decision in Carolina’s favor.
Goalkeeper Cam Ward made 23 saves and earned the win.
It was a favorable finish for the Hurricanes following a disappointing 4-3 overtime loss to the New York Islanders the night before.
“No one talks about back-to-backs, but show up, go to work and compete, and I thought we did that,” Carolina head coach Bill Peters said when asked about his team’s resiliency.
“I thought we started on time tonight which was encouraging.”
As 12,792 looked on, the Hurricanes dominated play during the first period while the Devils sat in the penalty box for most of it.
Rough and chippy play during the first 10 minutes peaked when Carolina’s Brad Malone tangled with New Jersey’s Bobby Farnham.
It all started as the result of a late hit on Hurricanes defenseman Ryan Murphy at center ice by the two team benches.
With Malone and Farnham in the box, Ron Hainsey opened the game’s scoring as Jordan Staal found him streaking through the slot to redirect the puck past Devils netminder Scott Wedgewood.
Defenseman Jaccob Slavin also earned the initial assist on the play.
With a 1-0 lead, a penalty to Joseph Blandisi for tripping soon after gave the Hurricanes the man-advantage opportunity they needed to extend the lead.
Rask did that at 9:46, just 36 seconds after Hainsey’s goal, and put Carolina ahead 2-0.
Sitting in the high slot, Rask took the pass Elias Lindholm fed him and snapped a low shot to by Wedgewood’s blocker to score his first of the game.
For the remainder of the period, play hovered around Wedgewood who was playing in his fourth career NHL game and first against Carolina.
“Once we had that start, I think everyone did a good job contributing,” Carolina’s Jeff Skinner said.
The Hurricanes carried the two-goal lead into the first intermission after outshooting the Devils 14-3.
It looked as though the second period would continue to play in to Carolina’s favor as Rask scored his second of the game – the eventual game winner – on a snap shot that beat Wedgewood two minutes in.
The recipient of a well-placed pass from Skinner who was deep in the Carolina zone, Rask scored his 20th of the season when he went low blocker again on Wedgewood and gave the Hurricanes a comfortable 3-0 lead.
“I like to go low blocker when I get a chance,” Rask said.
“I was lucky it went in. I was in the right spots and I got a lot of pucks to get a lot of shots.”
It looked as though it would turn into a rout, but the Devils showed up and started dishing out what they received in the first.
They took advantage of Carolina’s defensive miscues and quickly pulled within one.
Bobby Farnham and Travis Zajac scored 50 seconds apart to cut the Hurricanes’ lead to 3-2 with 12:43 remaining in the period.
Peters called a timeout for his to team to settle down.
“We just needed a little blow there, a timeout to regroup – nothing needed to be said,” the coach said.
“Just a quick timeout and away we go – dig back in. They continued to carry play for about four minutes and once we started makin’ plays, we were good again.”
At the end of two, Carolina still had its one-goal lead intact after being outshot 13-5.
Another 20 minutes between the two teams played out with no additional scoring and allowed the Hurricanes to add more points to their ledger – the 10th game in their last 12 that they’ve done so.
“There’s never an easy game,” Staal said.
“It’s the NHL and a team’s gonna fight back. We had a great start, took our foot off the gas a little bit where they made a push in that second period and they did a good job of gettin’ on the board. Going into the third, we knew we had to play just a solid game so that we could find a way to snuff them out.”
Sitting within four points of the final NHL Eastern Conference wildcard spot, and with the Philadelphia Flyers having two games in hand, Peters maintained that his team would continue to make a push for the postseason.
“I like where we’re at,” he concluded with a smile.
“We believe we could still get in. We’re gonna grind, we’re gonna keep goin’, and we’re gonna keep playin’ hard. We’ve beat some good teams and we’re just gonna continue to do what we do and believe in ourselves. I know there’s a lot of confidence in that room and I have confidence in the guys, so we’re just gonna keep findin’ ways.”