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Recap: Staal the OT hero as Hurricanes top Predators

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It wasn’t pretty, but the Hurricanes got two points thanks to their captain leading the way.

Captain Jordan Staal scores the game-winning goal in overtime against the Nashville Predators in PNC Arena, Tuesday, Mar. 9, 2021.
Kaydee Gawlik

The Nashville Predators entered the NHL in 1998, one year after the Carolina Hurricanes moved from Hartford and took up residence in North Carolina. Tuesday night, the two teams turned back the clock to the worst tendencies of the dead-puck era in which they entered the league more than 20 years ago.

Yes, the Hurricanes won 3-2 in overtime on the strength of two Jordan Staal goals, including the game-winner at 4:25 of the extra session, but no one was going to confuse this with the firewagon hockey that the Hurricanes have become known for. Effective? Sure. Easy to watch? Not so much.

Two points by any means necessary? You bet.

The Hurricanes did everything but score in the first period, getting to double-digit shots on Pekka Rinne by the midway point of the period but they couldn’t put the puck past the Predators’ netminder. The lack of reward for the Hurricanes’ hard work seemed to impact how they played in the remainder of the period, where they looked totally uninterested and allowed the Predators to take control.

It felt like the perfect situation for the Hurricanes to rue their missed chances, and that’s exactly what happened a minute into the second period when Matt Benning opened the scoring through a screen in front of Alex Nedeljkovic. Ryan Johansen made it a two-goal lead 12 minutes later on a redirection of a Dante Fabbro shot, and the Hurricanes were left totally adrift.

But then Fabbro’s elbow to Brock McGinn’s head 10 seconds after Johansen’s goal, somehow only called a minor despite being a textbook major penalty for elbowing, opened the door for the Hurricanes, and they walked right through it. Staal took a gorgeous pass from Sebastian Aho behind the net, deposited it through Rinne’s five-hole and uncorked a fist pump that could alter weather patterns.

That was half the battle - and the other half came on a 5-on-3 that was awarded in part due to Matthew Olivier deciding to spear Nino Niederreiter in the face, one of a laundry list of Hurricanes players to pay visits to the trainer’s room over the course of the game. Instead of setting up the goal as he did on the first goal, this time it was Aho finishing a perfectly placed one-time pass from Dougie Hamilton to pull the Hurricanes back to even on the scoreboard.

With the game back to even terms on the scoreboard, the Predators had little issue clogging up the neutral zone and taking extra shots at the Hurricanes whenever possible. Nashville was perfectly content with forcing the Hurricanes to the outside and letting Rinne handle everything he could see, which led to an effective if wholly uninteresting brand of hockey in the final period.

The best chance for either side in the third period came with 2:30 remaining when Johansen left a drop pass for Viktor Arvidsson on a 2-on-1 and Arvidsson clanked it off the crossbar and out of play. Nedeljkovic was only tested on two shots in the sleep-inducing third, while Rinne faced eight largely unmemorable shots at the other end.

Somehow, the Hurricanes survived two great Nashville chances in overtime, with Arvidsson missing an open net tap-in and Mattias Ekholm wiring a laser off the post, and they missed their own perfect chance when Aho set up Andrei Svechnikov that the winger directed just wide. But Staal mercifully ended it without anyone needing to endure an entirely unwanted shootout, finishing a 2-on-1 where he delayed just long enough to open Rinne up and stretch the Hurricanes’ win streak to six in a row.