As is customary, the Hurricanes have begun to utilize the month of March as a step ladder to attempt to climb themselves out of whatever hole they dug themselves into in February.
Entering play two points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot, the Hurricanes found themselves with yet another opportunity to stay right in the thick of the race for the postseason.
Coming off a big win on the first day of the month a night ago over the Philadelphia Flyers, the Canes got right back at it on the second half of this back-to-back set.
In the first period, the Hurricanes didn’t look like a team coming off a game and flight the night before. They carried play throughout the entire first, outshooting New Jersey 9-6 and having the more dangerous opportunities.
They did have to kill of a penalty late in the frame when Justin Faulk was called for a holding penalty. New Jersey’s 17th-ranked power play has been more dangerous than their position in the league would suggest of late, but the man-advantage situation passed without much incident.
Carolina picked up where they left off in the second period, getting the better of the chances and ultimately staking themselves to a 1-0 lead. The go-ahead goal came when Noah Hanifin made a nice play to hold the puck in. He found Victor Rask, who got the puck to Derek Ryan. Ryan angled toward the net, and a cross-crease pass intended for Lee Stempniak careened off the skate of Devils defenseman Damon Severson and in.
“It felt like I was getting lots of chances,” Ryan said. “But the puck wasn’t going in for me, and then I kind of make a desperate play in the second... I get a little puck luck, that’s just how hockey works.”
That lead would not last for long, as it was Ryan who was whistled for an offensive zone penalty to give New Jersey’s red-hot power play another crack at the Canes’ penalty kill. They were able to capitalize this time, as Taylor Hall extended his point streak to 24 games when he tipped a shot off the stick of defenseman Sami Vatanen by the leg of Cam Ward and in.
The second period came to an end with the score tied at one and Carolina holding a 22-14 advantage in terms of shots.
The Hurricanes reclaimed the lead about halfway through the third period, when Teuvo Teravainen re-directed a shot from Brett Pesce through Kinkaid’s five-hole to make it 2-1. Elias Lindholm also picked up an assist on the goal.
“Sometimes that’s what you need to get a big goal,” Teravainen said of his workmanlike goal. “Every goal is huge, and it’s a lot of one goal games, and you have to find ways to score.”
“The game winner is a guy that goes off his body and he’s by the blue paint,” head coach Bill Peters said of his team’s willingness to go to the net. “[You’ve] got to be inside the guts of the game, and the guys who do that are rewarded.”
Rookie Lucas Wallmark took a tripping penalty in the moments immediately following the goal, giving New Jersey’s power play a chance to tie the game once again. Their best chance came when Kyle Palmieri ripped a one-timer from the left point, but Ward got across to make a sprawling toe save.
“Yeah, I guess that was a little old school kick save there,” Ward said of the stop. “They got the opportunity on the power play; it’s a one goal game. You’ve got to come up with a save at a key time, and fortunately I was able to get a toe on it.”
The Devils spent the remainder of the third period making a desperate push to find an equalizer, but strong defense combined with good goaltending and a couple shifts spent in the New Jersey end was enough to ensure the Hurricanes held onto their lead, although a post hit by Travis Zajac with about six minutes remaining briefly called that into question.
An empty net goal from Justin Williams sealed the deal at 3-1.
Ward was sharp in the win for Carolina, turning aside 25 of the 26 shots he faced in his second consecutive winning effort.
With the win, the Hurricanes moved to 29-25-11 while earning their 68th and 69th points to move them into a brief tie with the Jackets, pending the result of their game against Anaheim on the West Coast tonight.
The Hurricanes return to action on Sunday as they welcome the scorching-hot Winnipeg Jets into town.
“It’s crunch time, obviously,” Ward said. “We have 17 games left now. I mean, we’re in this together. We’re in the fight, and we want to compete and get a string of wins together.”
Rank the Performances
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