Looking to build momentum coming off of two wins in Las Vegas and Buffalo to close off a season-long six-game road trip that started 0-2-2, the Carolina Hurricanes welcomed the Columbus Blue Jackets to PNC Arena for the final meeting of the season between the Metropolitan division rivals.
After sitting on the bench for two straight games watching Cam Ward come up with a pair of victories, starting goaltender Scott Darling turned in arguably his best performance as a Hurricane in a massive victory over the division leaders.
Carolina got the ball rolling quickly, when Jordan Staal centered a puck that was deflected in by local fan favorite Jack Johnson, the Blue Jackets defender and former highly touted Carolina draft pick who had spurned the Canes all those years ago.
The goal was the culmination of an impressive checking shift by Staal and his wingers, Justin Williams and Brock McGinn, who were rewarded with assists on the goal.
The 20-12-1, first-place Blue Jackets were not about to let this game get away from them easily, though, as a strong response shift led to Staal being found guilty of a high-sticking penalty. The league-worst Columbus power play saw their struggles continue, as the Hurricanes killed off the man-advantage without much of a scoring threat.
Columbus would tie the game shortly thereafter, though, as a defensive breakdown by Noah Hanifin and Trevor van Riemsdyk left Alexander Wennberg alone out in front, and Cam Atkinson found him with a nice pass that Wennberg re-directed through the five-hole of Scott Darling to even the score.
That was how the first period ended, with the score tied and Columbus having a clear edge in terms of play, holding a 16-8 lead in shots on goal. Darling came up with a couple acrobatic toe saves in the period that would loom large.
“When you’re seeing the puck well, sometimes it looks like it’s in slow motion,” Darling said of his night. “It was a good night like that.”
“He gave us a chance to build a game,” head coach Bill Peters said of his goalie. “We looked like a little bit of a fatigued team at that time, and then we built a game and got better, so credit for him to give us that opportunity.”
The second period began with Jeff Skinner getting called for interference, but Columbus’s futility with the man advantage continued.
The Hurricanes would then get a power play of their own for the first time, but it was cut short when Sebastian Aho was whistled for a hooking call that was not received kindly by the nearly 12,000 officials in the stands.
As it turned out, they probably shouldn’t have been so upset. On the ensuing 4-on-4, a rush between Hanifin, Jeff Skinner, and Derek Ryan generated a goal when Hanifin drove the net and put a second opportunity past a sprawling Sergei Bobrovsky for his sixth goal of the year.
“It was a good bounce,” Hanifin said of his goal. “But it was a good overall effort, especially on a 4-on-4.”
“He’s always had that.. real good offensive side to him,” Peters said of his burgeoning defenseman. “He’s just evolving and continuing to grow in all aspects.”
With that goal, the Hurricanes finally shook their second period woes, as Darling stood tall for the rest of the period and Carolina took that 2-1 lead into the locker room. Shots on goal at the end of the second period were 28-18 in favor of the Blue Jackets.
The third period began with Seth Jones getting called for delay of game when he flipped the puck over the glass, but on the ensuing power play, Justin Faulk sent an errant pass directly to a streaking Cam Atkinson, who broke in on a breakaway. Darling stopped the shot, but Faulk tripped Atkinson on the way in in an attempt to make a recovery, thus nullifying the remainder of the Carolina power play. The Hurricanes were succeeded in killing Columbus’s portion of the power play.
The third period went on with Columbus growing increasingly dangerous in the Carolina zone, but Darling continued his stellar performance by having the answer every single time something was thrown his way.
When Columbus was finally able to lift Bobrovsky in favor of a sixth attacker with 67 seconds remaining, the Hurricanes were able to clamp down in front of Darling and seal the game. With the win, the Canes improved to 14-11-7 on the year and strung together their first three-game win streak of the year.
“After that San Jose game, it was a little bit of a gut check,” Hanifin said. “We knew we were better than that, and I think since that game we started playing some better hockey. We’re playing hard, we’re playing the way we want to play as a team.”
The Hurricanes return to action on Tuesday afternoon in a rare weekday matinee as they travel to take on the Toronto Maple Leafs at 2 P.M.
Rank the Performances
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