Years from now, Sebastian Aho likely won’t remember the significance of this game to the Carolina Hurricanes’ 2016-17 season. Even in a few months, depending on what happens between now and April, the result may not matter.
But in the biggest game of the season so far, Aho took the reins and showed why the Canes have something to build around for the future. His first career hat trick, the first for a Hurricanes rookie since Erik Cole in 2001, gave the Canes exactly what they needed on Tuesday night. Their 5-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers keeps the Canes in the playoff conversation, and snapped a five-game losing streak in style.
Aho started early. His first goal was a thing of beauty, taking a pass from Jordan Staal with his back to the net and seamlessly slicing through the Flyers defense, surprising Steve Mason who had no time to get set.
Not to be upstaged, Cam Ward did his part, shutting down Michael Raffl on a 2-on-1 save that would have made 2006 Cam Ward proud.
And then Aho took over again, swiping the puck from Flyers captain Claude Giroux just inside the blue line and performing some fancy footwork to avoid an offside, then for good measure setting up Elias Lindholm on a give-and-go that Aho finished off to give the Canes a 2-0 lead at 16:37.
The Canes’ defense, shaky before the break during the losing skid, showed back up in style against the Flyers. Carolina outshot the Flyers 20-6 in the first two periods, including a 12-2 romp in the second period alone, and gave up a season-low 16 shots to the Flyers on the evening.
Jeff Skinner made it a 3-0 lead late in the second period, wristing a laser over Mason’s left shoulder, and then the hats flew for Aho’s third of the night, finally breaking the Canes’ home power-play futility with his 15th of the season. It was the first extra-skater goal the Canes had scored at PNC Arena since December 16.
Justin Faulk scored early in the third period to make it 5-0, after a pair of undisciplined Flyers penalties gifted the Canes a 5-on-3 power play. It was the Canes’ second two-man advantage goal of the season, set up by a perfect pass from - who else? - Aho in the far corner.
Ward got to within nine minutes of his third shutout of the season, but Brayden Schenn salvaged a bit of pride for the Flyers with a power play goal at 10:27 of the third period. Aho had a chance for his fourth late in the period, and Viktor Stalberg shot wide on a breakaway coming out of the penalty box with a minute left, but by that time it was a foregone conclusion.
The Canes earned their first win against the Flyers this season, with two more games to come in March and April. They now get two days off before the Edmonton Oilers come to town on Friday night, the Canes’ final home game before a three-game road trip leading into their bye week in mid-February.
The win moves the Canes to 51 points, within five of the Flyers for the final wild-card position in the Eastern Conference and, more importantly, snaps a season-high losing streak just in time to avoid losing touch with the playoff cut line.
Rank the Performances
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