RALEIGH, N.C. – There was shock and there was awe.
Those were the feelings among the crowd of 14,588 who witnessed the Carolina Hurricanes’ overwhelming 5-0 win over the defending Stanley Cup-champion Chicago Blackhawks at PNC Arena on Tuesday.
Riley Nash scored two goals while singles from Jeff Skinner, John Michael-Liles, and Joakim Nordstrom all supported an impressive shutout win for goaltender Eddie Lack who earned it with his 26-save performance.
Chicago fans in attendance sat in shock as their team was outshot 40-26 and outscored, while the local faithful were in awe of the 60-minute effort the Hurricanes put forward to play the team’s most entertaining game of season.
“One-hundred percent,” former Blackhawks winger Kris Versteeg said in agreement.
“Sometimes those games are tough to stay in when you’ve got that kind of lead. It’s tough to keep doin’ the right things because everyone wants to score goals and get points, but we found a way to stop a dangerous team.”
With the Blackhawks having ended a franchise-record 12-game win streak, the Hurricanes’ triumph over them gave them their third loss in their last four.
It was Lack’s second shutout in four games, with his first coming last Thursday in a 1-0 overtime win against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“I was feeling good technically,” Lack said.
“I was seeing the puck well too. I didn’t feel like we gave them much. Once we got that first goal, we just kept goin’. We didn’t really look back. It was an awesome team performance tonight.”
It seemed that the circumstances for a perfect storm brewed as the Hurricanes hit Chicago at the right time.
Skinner opened the game’s scoring 2:12 into the game, his 18th goal of the season.
Sitting at the top of Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford’s crease, Skinner along with Jay McClement both swiped to finish a shot attempt from Elias Lindholm.
Lindholm’s wrist shot ricocheted off Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith’s shin pad before continuing towards the net where Skinner ended up getting enough of his stick on the puck to beat Crawford to put Carolina ahead 1-0.
At the other end, Lack made an impressive glove save to keep the Blackhawks wanting as play continued.
Both teams traded power play opportunities, but both teams’ penalty kills did the job to deny any successful scoring opportunities.
With 6:55 remaining in the period, Nash scored his third of the season when he tipped in Jaccob Slavin’s point shot.
Similar to Skinner, Nash was in the right spot just above Crawford’s crease where he had enough space to get his stick on the puck and redirect it off Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson and past Crawford.
The Hurricanes continued to take advantage of the Blackhawks’ lack of defensive pace, catching them on a transition breakout through the neutral zone.
Liles jumped in on the rush and scored at 4:37 to extend the Hurricanes lead to 3-0.
The play started with a head-man pass from Eric Staal up to Versteeg who carried the puck across the Chicago blue line before saucering a pass past Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook’s stick.
Liles got control of it and tapped it in off his own skate to score.
Carolina led 3-0 as both teams headed into the intermission with the Hurricanes outshooting Chicago by a 16-5 margin.
“It was pretty evident right from the beginning that we were in a lot of trouble tonight,” Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville said.
“We lost every single puck battle, every single race.”
The opening-period barrage was enough for Quenneville to pull Crawford and replace him with Scott Darling to begin the second period.
Carolina greeted Darling with five shots early in the second which he stopped well enough.
With Phil Di Giuseppe in the penalty box for hooking, the Blackhawks had their best opportunity to beat Lack, but he made successive stops to hold Carolina’s three-goal lead heading into the latter half of the period.
While Chicago looked a little more composed, Carolina still played a sharper puck-battle game and it paid off when Nordstrom beat Darling to extend the Hurricanes lead to 4-0.
Jordan Staal picked the puck up behind the net and fed Nordstrom in the slot to score his fifth of the season at the 10:51 mark.
Soon after, Nash scored his second of the game on a pass from Skinner.
“Just tryin’ to contribute whether it’s hits, getting’ pucks in deep, not makin’ any mistakes, scorin’ every once in a blue moon,” Nash said smiling in describing his finish on the night.
“It’s funny – once you find yourself in a tough stretch like that, you kind of find yourself and start diggin’ yourself out of it. I just wanted to contribute in any way possible.”
Getting the scoring support he needed, Lack continued to hold his ground as Jonathan Toews’ wrist shot hit his chest protector and dropped to the ice for him to smother without any consequence.
Besides Toews, Lack kept the NHL’s leading scorer, Patrick Kane, off the score sheet as well.
Holding onto their 5-0 lead, the Hurricanes worked to complete the masterpiece of a game they started.
Chicago’s effort was better and noticeable, but Carolina’s almost effortless-looking consistency in clogging passing, skating, and shooting lanes allowed Lack the opportunity to have eyes on every shot he saw.
Even another two man-advantage opportunities during the final 20 minutes of play didn’t bear any fruit for the Blackhawk’s league-leading road power play.
Looking back, you still have to ask – how did it all happen?
“We’ve been building, especially in the last two months,” Versteeg said.
“They’re a great team; we had to bring our best and tonight was a good night for us. They even get more dangerous when they’re down in a game. We found a way to play a complete game.”
Even if it was a bad night for the Blackhawks, you couldn’t take away what Carolina put forward.
Completing a season sweep of the defending champions earned them the credibility that the style of game the Hurricanes have been playing is the ‘right way’.
“When we do it right and we get contributions throughout the lineup, we’re a good team,” Carolina head coach Bill Peters concluded.
“We’ve been a good team here for a while now, and what we like is it’s goin’ in the right direction.”