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Nedeljkovic’s stellar assist lifts Hurricanes to overtime win over Blue Jackets

Alex Nedeljkovic stopped 31 shots and set up Dougie Hamilton’s game-winning goal as the Hurricanes closed out their season series with the Blue Jackets with a win.

Goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic prepares to block a shot from the Columbus Blue Jackets, Saturday, May, 1, 2021 in PNC Arena. The Canes won in overtime, 2-1.
Kaydee Gawlik

Saturday night’s matchup between the Carolina Hurricanes and Columbus Blue Jackets came at a very interesting time in both teams’ seasons.

The Blue Jackets are just freshly eliminated from playoff contention after falling apart dramatically down the stretch of the regular season.

The Hurricanes, on the other hand, are just a couple of games removed from clinching a playoff berth. The goal now is to finish strong and lock down the number one seed in the Central Division - and the NHL, for that matter. A 2-1 overtime win Saturday night could go a long way in helping them do just that.

A slow start for the Hurricanes culminated with an early goal for Max Domi on a defensive breakdown at the three-minute mark.

Columbus followed up its opening goal with several chances in back-to-back shifts, including a chance for Eric Robinson on a wide-open net that Jaccob Slavin got his skate to in the nick of time to keep the lead from increasing to two.

From there, the Hurricanes found their footing in the game and started to pile up some quality chances. Jake Bean very nearly tied the game in the middle portion of the frame, but his shot rattled off the goal post and the helmet of Elvis Merzlikins.

Carolina would eventually tally the equalizer, though, in the form of a one-time rocket off the stick of Teuvo Teravainen.

Naturally, Sebastian Aho found Teravainen and put the puck right in his wheelhouse for his second goal in as many games. Andrei Svechnikov’s middle lane drive created the passing lane.

The Canes kept their foot on the gas through the remainder of the period, especially the Teravainen-Aho-Svechnikov trio. Carolina’s first line lived in the offensive zone in the second half of the period, and while they couldn’t beat Merzlikins again, the sustained pressure from the Canes did lead to their first power play of the game in the dying seconds of the period.

That man advantage carried over into the second period, a frame that followed a similar script to that of the first period. They generated next to no chances on the power play, and they got worked by Columbus for much of the first several minutes of the period.

Alex Nedeljkovic was busy and perfect as the Jackets swarmed his net, keeping the Canes in the game and allowing them to build their game back up.

Carolina eventually did that, thanks to some strong shifts from the Vincent Trocheck and Jordan Staal lines, but Merzlikins stood tall, and the score didn’t change by the time the horn sounded to mark the end of 40 minutes.

The most dramatic sequence of the game came in the third period when back-to-back penalties left the Hurricanes with the better part of two minutes of a 5-on-3 to kill. In the defining moment of the game, Carolina came out on top and put on a dominant showing.

Brett Pesce blocked a huge shot during the 5-on-3, and his partner Jaccob Slavin made a number of big plays below the goal line to clear pucks and keep the Jackets at bay. It was a masterclass for the Carolina penalty killers.

From there on, it felt like overtime was inevitable. Columbus got one final chance late in the third period, but Nedeljkovic made another stellar save to force bonus hockey.

The extra frame was all Carolina for almost five straight minutes.

Two Blue Jackets players collided at the Hurricanes blue line, setting the stage for a long breakaway for Aho. Merzlikins came up with the save on Aho to keep overtime going, but he had to remain vigilant as Carolina continued to control possession.

Martin Necas darted into the offensive zone and very nearly ended the game on a move to the net, but a Columbus defenseman tied him up.

Then, it happened.

Nedeljkovic made a save with under a minute left in overtime, and instead of covering the puck, he played the puck off of the boards and right onto the stick of Dougie Hamilton for another breakaway chance.

Hamilton didn’t miss his shot as he strode in and jammed the puck over the blue line past the outstretched pad of Merzlikins to win the game for the Hurricanes and close out their season series with the Jackets on a high note.

On top of his highlight reel primary assist, Nedeljkovic had another outstanding night in the net for the Hurricanes. He stopped 31 of 32 shots in the win.

With the win, the Hurricanes are now 34-10-7 on the season. They will end the night in first place in the NHL in total points. Their point streak is now at 10 games.

Carolina’s homestand will continue with a three-game set against the Chicago Blackhawks before they close out the season with two games in Nashville.