Entering the game, the Hurricanes simply had the Panthers’ number, sporting a 5-0-1 record in what had been a hectic, closely fought six-game battle between the clubs in the 2021 season.
Their seventh head-to-head matchup followed the same dramatic script.
A very disjointed first period from both teams led to a litany of penalties, starting with an early hooking penalty on Nino Niederreiter that was quickly followed up by a fight between Jordan Martinook and Ryan Lomberg after a minor collision between the two at the Florida blue line.
Less than two minutes after the fight, Aleksander Barkov went to the box for tripping. Three minutes after that penalty expired, the Hurricanes took a bench minor for too many men on the ice. Less than three minutes after that, Sam Bennett got whistled for interfering with Martinook. 36 seconds after that penalty expired, Warren Foegele boarded Bennett.
Somewhere in there, Barkov scored the game’s first goal on a chip shot that deflected off of Jake Gardiner and over a sprawled-out Alex Nedeljkovic.
There were five power plays in the first period - three for the Cats, two for the Canes.
The second period had a much better pace, and that led to the Hurricanes finding their game in short order.
Just 14 seconds into the period, Jordan Staal powered the puck to the front of the net, and Martinook was there to stretch out and get his stick in position to flip it up and into the far side of the Florida net to tie the game.
The Hurricanes kept the pressure on the Panthers as the second period progressed, eventually forcing Florida into penalty trouble at 9:39 when Lomberg got whistled for slashing Brett Pesce.
The second power-play unit came through and gave the Canes their first lead of the night.
Jake Gardiner to Martin Necas to Brett Pesce to Nino Niederreiter to the back of the net.— Canes Country (@CanesCountry) April 23, 2021
The Hurricanes have a 2-1 lead in Florida. pic.twitter.com/5npK3qUEQD
Niederreiter cashed in on the rebound from Pesce’s shot after some great puck movement from Jake Gardiner and Martin Necas.
Pesce took a late second-period penalty, but it was the Canes who scored in the aftermath. Martin Necas forced a turnover at the Florida blue line and set up a 100-foot 2-on-0 with Sebastian Aho. The dynamic duo passed the puck back and forth several times before putting poor Sergei Bobrovsky out of his misery and scoring their third goal of the period.
A big blow was dealt to the Canes in that second period, though. Martinook took a hit from Radko Gudas along the boards, and the Canes alternate captain sustained what appeared to be a right knee injury. He did not return to the game.
Jordan Martinook gets hit by Radko Gudas, and his leg bends in a way it shouldn't bend... He went straight to the locker room, not putting any weight on his right leg. pic.twitter.com/anNy7yIzgN— Brett Finger (@brettfinger) April 23, 2021
Then the third period happened.
The Hurricanes had seven minor penalties in the third period. Seven. Andrei Svechnikov and Aho’s roughing penalties at 9:52 were offset by matching minors on the Panthers, but the other five led to Florida power plays.
Barkov scored his second goal of the game on a 5-on-3 with 7:58 to go in the third period. After that goal, the Canes were penalized two more times after the ensuing 5-on-4 expired, but a dogged penalty kill and several unbelievable sequences from Alex Nedeljkovic kept the Cats at bay before Carolina salted the game away with a shorthanded, empty-net goal with under a minute to go from Aho.
Carolina had a season-high nine penalty kills, and it was successful on all but one of them.
With the win, the Hurricanes improved to 6-0-1 on the season against the Panthers. They’ll also stay put atop the Central Division. They have a two-point lead on Florida with two games in hand.
Aho finished the game with a pair of shorthanded goals, giving him 12 career shorties and putting him in second place on the franchise leaderboard in that category. Only Eric Staal has scored more shorthanded goals for the Hurricanes.
Necas had a three-assist night. Two were while shorthanded.
Nedeljkovic starred in the third period, shutting the door time and again on the Panthers. He made 32 saves on 34 shots, none more important than his sprawling stop on Jonathan Huberdeau in a 3-2 game in the third period.
These two teams will play again in what will surely be another stressful affair on Saturday night. It will be their final of eight meetings in the regular season.