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About last night: Big first period, top-six scoring pushes Canes closer to clinching division

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The Hurricanes’ top lines are clicking at exactly the right time of the season.

Chicago Blackhawks v Carolina Hurricanes Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images

The Hurricanes are winding down the regular season exactly where they want to be — on a roll. With a 5-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks Monday night, the Canes extended their point streak to 11 games (8-0-3).

The Canes got the win thanks to an excellent first period that set the tone and great game from their top-six forwards, and also saw Alex Nedeljkovic hit a key milestone for his upcoming contract negotiations.

Let’s talk about last night.

An excellent start

The Canes were on their A-game right out of the gate in this one, controlling play and generating chance after chance early. Ironically, despite a few early grade-As, including a point-blank shot off the post from Sebastian Aho, it was probably the most harmless chance that got the scoring started about 6.5 minutes in: a centering pass from below the goal line by Dougie Hamilton that banked off Malcolm Subban and in.

The goal was Hamilton’s 10th of the season, and he became the eighth Hurricane to reach double-digit goals on the season. Since starting the year with just one goal in 25 games, Hamilton now has nine in his last 27 games.

The line of Vincent Trocheck, Martin Necas and Nino Niederreiter was likely the Canes’ best in the opening frame, with Trocheck picking up two assists. With about six minutes left in the period, Necas doubled the Canes’ lead with a seeing-eye shot from the point through a Niederreiter screen, snapping a personal five-game point drought and 11-game goal drought.

“Yeah, we were definitely clicking early,” Trocheck said. “I think it was just a matter of coming out ready and making sure those first ten minutes were ours, and getting a lead early.”

Overall, the Canes dominated the period, taking a 2-0 lead to the locker room, outshooting Chicago 8-4 and, per Natural Stat Trick, racking up a 66.67% Corsi-for, 9-3 edge in scoring chances and 5-2 edge in high-danger chances.

It was exactly the kind of opening-period performance Carolina will need to set the tone in these crucial games.

SAT stays hot

In a vacuum, the return of Teuvo Teravainen gives the Hurricanes an elite two-way forward and playmaker back in the lineup. But it creates a huge ripple effect as well.

His return allowed the Canes to reunite their dominate top line of Teravainen, Aho and Svechnikov. And they’ve picked up where they left off (last season, really). With Aho’s hat trick Monday night, one of which came on a dazzling assist from Svechnikov, the trio has combined for six goals and 18 points since “Turbo’s” return. Aho is on a nine-game point streak.

That trio getting back to its top form, combined with Trocheck, Necas and Niederreiter picking it up, gives the Canes two legitimate top-six scoring lines — which should be a very scary idea for upcoming playoff opponents.

“[Teravainen] is a huge part of it,” said Rod Brind’Amour. “Huge skill there, talent on the power play, penalty kill, he does everything. You take that out of your lineup, you’re not going to replace it. So obviously having him in there allows us a lot of flexibility. Those two lines, spread it around, it gives us a lot of options.”

Alex Nedeljkovic is an RFA

Normally, reaching the 30-minute mark of an NHL game is not overly consequential. But for the Hurricanes and Alex Nedeljkovic Monday night, it meant he’d reached his 29th NHL game of at least 30 minutes played, officially making him a restricted free agent when the season ends.

Nedeljkovic has had an absolutely phenomenal season and shown his ability to win games for the Canes time and again, and, in 22 starts on the season, is 15-4-3 with three shutouts, a .932 save percentage and 1.89 goals-against average, the later two of which lead the NHL among goalies with at least 10 starts. But the sample size is still relatively small. It’s going to be fascinating to see how the team approaches contract talks with “Ned” this summer, as he’s one of all three of their goalies whose contracts will be up at the end of the year.

Do they go long term, or with more of a bridge deal given the sample? Now that he’s reached the RFA threshold, the team will have a little more control/leverage in negotiations.

Closer to the clinch

The victory also moves the Canes another step closer to locking up the Central Division, despite Florida’s win Monday. The Canes stay two points ahead of the Panthers with two games in hand, and their magic number to finish ahead of the Cats is three. They’re four points ahead of Tampa Bay with four games left for each team, and their magic number to finish ahead of the Bolts, and win the division, is five.