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Nedeljkovic, Canes, shut out Lightning

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The Carolina Hurricanes, led by rookie netminder Alex Nedeljkovic, shut out the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-0 Saturday night at PNC Arena.

Carolina goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic freezes a scoring attempt by Tampa Bay Lightning, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021 in PNC Arena. Nedeljkovic notched his first career NHL shutout, beating the Lightning 4-0.
Kaydee Gawlik

The Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-0 Saturday night at PNC Arena to move into first place in the Central Division.

Rookie netminder Alex Nedeljkovic stopped all 24 shots he faced to earn his first career NHL shutout over last season’s champs.

The Hurricanes entered the contest with two adjustments among the skaters.

Steven Lorentz drew in for Teuvo Teravainen, who will miss extended time due to an upper-body injury sustained last game and Haydn Fleury came in for Jake Gardiner just to keep guys fresh.

The first period had the feel of playoff hockey and for the most-part it kind of will be for a little stretch as the Hurricanes and Lightning will meet in four-straight contests. But the first saw two fast-paced teams generating chances, but just running into solid defense.

Two teams that excel at opening up the ice found each confined to battle in tight for every possession, pass and shot. The physicality was also present right away.

After neither team could find a goal in the first period of play, the Canes decided that second periods were going to become more of their thing.

The scoring started off with the ever-hot second line as Vincent Trocheck managed to get his stick on a bouncing puck in the blue paint and sweep it in before Vasilevskiy could get across.

The Canes started buzzing from there as chances started to pile up for the Hurricanes, including a shorthanded odd-man rush, breakaway and a few strikes of iron, but the goal to extend the lead eluded them.

That was until late in the second period.

With under five to go, Andrei Svechnikov picked off a pass at the blueline to keep the offensive zone and fed a great pass to Sebastian Aho, who had slipped in behind the defense. In alone, he roofed it over Vasilevskiy to give the Hurricanes a 2-0 lead.

The Canes also brought a much more physical package in the second as the Hurricanes started laying the body on Tampa including a pair of hits on Alex Volkov, one by Jordan Martinook and the other by Jaccob Slavin.

The Canes didn’t sit on their heels though as they came out in the third ready to go.

The fourth line especially had a long shift in the Tampa zone as they kept working the puck and they were rewarded for it. After Martinook made a great hit and subsequent steal of the puck, Jake Bean found Cedric Paquette in the slot and Paquette made it count against his old team for his first goal as a Hurricane.

The goal was a classic case of just outworking your opponent and the Hurricanes kept pushing from there.

Tampa barely had a chance to find a goal of their own as Carolina’s defense and forecheck were relentless and as the clock ticked down, Andrei Svechnikov sealed it away with an empty-net goal.

Making 24 saves, including quite a few high-danger, unorthodox and stickless ones, Nedeljkovic came up huge for the Hurricanes in his first career shutout. He made the saves he needed to and was involved in a very fluid game making his presence known.

It bodes well and, obviously has to feel good, when your netminder can take it to one of the top offenses in the league.

The Canes will be back on the ice at PNC Arena Monday at 7 p.m. for the second game of a four-game mini series with the Lightning.