A wild opening led to a bit of a grind-fest in the Hurricanes’ return to PNC Arena on Friday night, but an unbelievable outing from veteran backstop Curtis McElhinney rose above the chaos and played the primary role in a big win for the Canes over the Edmonton Oilers.
Hopefully, you got to your seats in time for the opening puck drop.
All of 37 seconds into the first period, it was Nino Niederreiter who netted the icebreaker and his seventh in 11 games.
It was yet another highly-cerebral series of plays from Justin Williams and Sebastian Aho that led to the goal. The first line kept chugging along against the Oilers.
Less than a minute later, though, Leon Draisaitl got the road team on the board. Edmonton capitalized with a mental lapse from Justin Faulk and the ensuing two-on-one ended up behind McElhinney.
That’s all they would get, though.
Less than a minutes later (again), the Hurricanes reclaimed their lead. Micheal Ferland carried the puck into the zone, got the puck to Teuvo Teravainen in the slot, and the Finn made a slick move and found Lucas Wallmark, who slammed home his seventh of the year to make it 2-1.
From there, things slowed down dramatically, especially for the Canes’ offense. The Oilers started pushing back in a big way, and a long breakaway for Alex Chiasson could’ve took the wind out of Carolina’s sails, but McElhinney made a huge save and the Canes eventually took their 2-1 lead into the first intermission.
Edmonton ran away with the scoring chances in the second period, and a spree of power plays certainly didn’t hurt their cause.
Niederreiter took a pair of penalties - the first one was a bit of a phantom hold on Connor McDavid. The Canes killed it off, but then the fireworks went off when the former Wild took a borderline cross-check and a painful fall into the boards and then decided to retaliate in a way that he should be pretty embarrassed of. He took a clear, retaliatory run at Oscar Klefbom (who wasn’t the player that even hit him in the first place) and got sent to the box for boarding.
A few moments later, overflowing emotions got Jordan Martinook and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in trouble. They went at each other a bit after the whistle and got matching roughing penalties for their rambunctious behavior.
After all of that, though, no goals were scored in the middle frame despite Edmonton having a staggering 17-5 shot advantage in the second period and 29-14 through 40 minutes.
The Hurricanes showed a bit more pushback in the third period, but the Oilers kept getting grade-a’s. McElhinney just had an absurdly great effort, though. Highlight reel saves galore and a calm and collected presence the entire way. It never felt like he was about to let up the game-tying goal. His play has been one of the biggest revelations in all of hockey, let alone for just the Canes.
A huge goal from Niederreiter late in the third period put everyone at ease and the Canes secured a huge 3-1 win on home ice.
With the win, the Hurricanes are winners of five of their last six games, seven of their last nine, and own an NHL-best 15-4-1 record since New Year’s Eve. McElhinney was the first star and stopped 40 of 41 shots in the win, Aho’s two assists got him to a career-high 66 points on the year (and it’s only game 58...), and Niederreiter kept his unreal scoring tear going.
By and large, the Canes did a great job of containing Connor McDavid. Surprisingly, we saw a lot of Calvin de Haan and Trevor van Riemsdyk on the ice against Edmonton’s generational superstar, and they did an extremely impressive job in the shutdown role.
Carolina is now 30-22-6 (66 points) this season and are, again, just one point out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. A Canes win tomorrow over the Stars coupled by a Penguins loss against the Flames would propel Carolina into the eighth seed.
As important as Friday’s game was, Saturday’s game two of the back-to-back is just as important.
We’ll see if they can put together a winning effort at PNC Arena. Friday was a great start to their big weekend.