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Mrazek’s shutout lifts Hurricanes into wild card playoff spot

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Mrazek puts together a stellar outing, Hurricanes enter the Eastern Conference’s top-eight.

Jamie Kellner

We’ve seen this movie before.

The Carolina Hurricanes have found themselves on the doorstep of a playoff spot countless times over the last decade. Unfortunately, their record in the big games that could put them in the top-eight of the Eastern Conference has been... less than ideal.

This one was different, though.

They threw the past directly out the window on Saturday night in Raleigh. Fully aware of what a win would for their standing in the ever-changing playoff bubble, the Canes went out and got the job done.

Just like the night before, the Hurricanes wasted no time getting on the scoreboard, and again, it was the red-hot first line.

Nino Niederreiter made a strong defensive play at the Carolina blue line and chipped the puck up ice to Sebastian Aho, and he and Justin Williams did the rest to make it 1-0.

How about matching four-game point streak for the trio? Not bad. Not bad at all...

Just over three minutes later, the Canes scored a huge second tally to cushion their early lead. After Justin Faulk and Brock McGinn just missed on an attempted connection, the duo got a second chance and didn’t miss.

Faulk kept the puck in and delivered a great pass to McGinn in the slot, and the feisty forward roofed a backhander up and over the shoulder of former Hurricane Anton Khudobin to make it 2-0.

From there, the Hurricanes lost their game and it was a track meet for the Stars. Like Curtis McElhinney on Friday, Petr Mrazek put together an absolutely stellar, game-steeling performance.

At the close of the first period, the score was 2-0 despite Carolina’s huge disadvantage on the shot clock.

The second period brought more of the same. Dallas kept grinding out long shifts in the Canes’ end of the ice, and as time went on, the home team on the back-end of a back-to-back really started to show fatigue. Their passes weren’t crisp, their decision-making wasn’t as quick or good, and they leaned heavily on their goalie to get them through the middle frame.

At the end of two periods, Carolina somehow held onto their 2-0 lead on the scoreboard while Dallas flaunted 26-12 lead in shots on goal.

The Canes had a strong start to third period before eventually giving up the pace to the Stars as the road team made a forceful final push in the middle of the final frame.

Mrazek stood tall throughout, singlehandedly keeping his team’s lead in tact at times. For as gassed as the Hurricanes looked down the stretch, they were able to muster up some big defensive plays when they needed it.

A cross-checking penalty on Alexander Radulov late in the game gave Carolina their only powerplay chance of the night. Both units put together their best man-advantage sequences in, perhaps, months. The top group created some chances but were denied by Khudobin. Then, the reinforcements came in and hammered home a huge, huge, huge goal.

Lucas Wallmark controlled the puck along the half-wall, Andrei Svechnikov got the pass and held onto it long enough to draw the defender out of the passing lane, and Micheal Ferland got his shot through the wickets of the aggressive goalie to put the game away.

That goal sparked some more energy in the Hurricanes down the stretch and they were able to dictate play and end things on a high note. Mrazek’s third shutout of the season saw him stop 33 pucks, most of which came in the first 40 minutes.

With the win, the Carolina Hurricanes are in a playoff spot on February 16. They are 16-4-1 since December 31, which is good for the best record in all of hockey over that span.

The team has more than earned a day off. Between now and Tuesday night, the Hurricanes will prepare themselves for a winnable home game against the New York Rangers. They’re in a playoff spot. Now, they gotta hold on.

The next few weeks will really show what this team is made of. Like head coach Rod Brind’Amour said after the game, “We’ve got a long way to go. We’re certainly not going to be satisfied that we’re in right now. It counts in about a month and a half.”