Skinner, Hurricanes top Blues 3-1

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RALEIGH, N.C. – The Carolina Hurricanes topped the St. Louis Blues 3-1 at PNC Arena on Friday during the two teams’ second and final meeting of the regular season.

Jeff Skinner scored the eventual game-winning goal in the second period while Nathan Gerbe and Alexander Semin sandwiched in goals during the first and third periods, respectively.

Goaltender Anton Khudobin made 26 saves and pushed his win total to 12 on the season.

Even while coming into the game having won four of their last five games, head coach Kirk Muller wanted to make sure his team got off to a good start against the Blues who were winners of four of their last five coming in as well.

“We just said we gotta’ bring our A-game here tonight if we want some good results,” Muller said.

“Right from the get-go I thought our guys were focused. They came out hard. I thought we put a really good 60 minutes together tonight.”

Gerbe scored the game’s first goal on the power play at 3:46 of the opening period.

After St. Louis’ Brendan Morrow was penalized for placing a high stick to Riley Nash’s face, it took Carolina a little time to make the power play click.

As the Hurricanes worked to settle possession of the puck in the Blues’ zone, defenseman Justin Faulk passed the puck across the blue line to partner Andrej Sekera who then looked across and down to find Gerbe sitting on top of the faceoff dot to netiminder Jaroslav Halak’s left.

Gerbe wasted no time as he redirected the pass with a one-timer that beat Halak to tally his 12th goal of the season and put the Hurricanes ahead 1-0.

“He made a great hockey play,” Gerbe said of Sekera’s pass.

“He looked cross-ice and made a good pass.”

Shortly afterwards, Carolina was afforded another power play as T.J. Oshie tried to take Carolina defenseman Brett Bellemore out with a high check as the result of going airborne before hitting him against the boards.

Halak stood tall and stopped two high-quality shots from Semin during the subsequent power play sequences.

The Blues netminder, who faced 30 shots throughout the game, also made an impressive save on a snipe from Drayson Bowman when both teams were back at even strength and kept the Carolina lead at one goal.

With Hurricanes defenseman Ron Hainsey penalized for hooking at the 9:11 mark, it only took 13 seconds on the power play for David Backes to even the score 1-1.

He sat all alone in front of Khudobin’s net and received a pass from Derek Roy out of the corner before beating Khudobin over his opposite shoulder with a redirected shot.

A third power play for Carolina shortly afterwards didn’t yield any tangible result and both teams skated into the first intermission still tied with a goal apiece.

Continuing to play with the same intensity that they finished the opening period with while outshooting the Blues 12-10, it only took a few minutes for Skinner give the Hurricanes the lead and eventual win.

He beat Halak with a shot that he placed between the keeper’s trapper and pads, and tallied his team-high 23rd goal of the season.

Linemate Jordan Staal set the play up by winning the battle for the puck off the faceoff against Vladimir Sobotka by getting his stick on it and pulling it back to Skinner at the top of the circle.

From there, Skinner took a few strides towards Halak before letting his snap shot go that beat the St. Louis keeper cleanly.

Even while scoring the eventual game-winner and placing six shots on Halak, Skinner envisioned more scoring output to come soon from him and his linemates – Jordan Staal and Elias Lindholm.

“Since I’ve been on the line, especially the last few games, we’ve been generating a lot of chances, just haven’t been able to bury one,” Skinner said.

“Tonight we generated some really good looks and couldn’t seem to find one after that goal we got. Those are two good players. Staalsy’s playing real well right now – big and strong. Lindy’s making some really good plays. I think hopefully we’ll break out here sometime.”

Carolina held the one-goal advantage throughout the period as many quality scoring attempts at both ends of the rink were accompanied by ample hits and physical play along the boards.

With 6:06 remaining, Semin was penalized for boarding after taking an extra step to plant Alex Pietrangelo into the end glass behind the Blues net.

Semin’s hit may have had some payback related to it as it was Pietrangelo who hit Semin during the two team’s previous game against one another back on November 16 that resulted in the Russian forward suffering a concussion and subsequently missing 12 games because of it.

The Hurricanes managed to kill off Semin’s penalty and carried their 2-1 lead into the final period of play.

“They’ve got a really good power play,” Muller said.

“It was a tough penalty. It was focus tonight – special teams, five-on-five. He got the penalty and we knew that was a big kill we had to get done there.”

Semin afforded the Blues another power play opportunity early in the third period when he was called for delay of game after picking the puck up and throwing it along the boards.

The Hurricanes penalty kill once again proved to be effective, and coupled with Khudobin’s performance in net stymied the St. Louis offense.

Every opportunity that the Blues had to score for the remainder of the period was thwarted by the netminder.

With 1:04 left to play, Semin then exacted more revenge on Pietrangelo by poking puck the away from him at the Hurricanes blue line.

Semin then picked it up and skated down to the other end and scored Carolina’s third and final goal of the game to the cheers of the crowd of 16,035 on hand.

“They’re a big team and they work hard,” Staal said of earning the win over the Blues.

“You have to battle for every puck and every little play someone’s finishing you. It was a good tight battle for us and we got the win.”