RALEIGH — The Carolina Hurricanes have, as a team, not handled adversity well for the past few seasons. With Friday’s 2-1 win over the two-time defending champions, they may have turned a corner.
“Winning teams are able to handle that kind of adversity and kind of grind their way to a hard 2-1 win,” Derek Ryan said of the team’s difficulty in overcoming its missteps. “(That) is something that this team has struggled to do in the past. So that’s what winning teams do.”
Right now, the Hurricanes are a winning team.
Carolina (18-12-7) got its fourth straight victory and moved within one point of the Islanders and two of the Rangers — the current teams in a wild card slot — with a game in hand on each team, all in front of 17,975 at PNC Arena.
“I think we’re doing the little things right, right now. I think we are comfortable as a team, and I think that’s it,” said Sebastian Aho, whose second period goal gave him the game-winner in consecutive wins.
The Hurricanes took the lead with 2:16 left in the second, but the NHL War Room in Toronto — after the on-ice officials ruled Jaccob Slavin’s slap shot goal was good — overturned the play on review for Ryan interfering with Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry.
“I don’t know. It could have gone either way, I guess,” Ryan said of the goal being overturned. “I don’t know what the exact rulebook says on that, but I definitely made contact there. It’s outside of the crease — I don’t know whether that matters or not; whether he initiates it or not. But definitely, it’s a fine line.”
Carolina didn’t blink.
On the next shift, Slavin danced into the slot and had the puck pokechecked by Jarry (5-3-2, 31 saves) but right to Aho, who popped it in the net for his 11th goal just 21 seconds after they had been denied the first go-ahead score on the review.
“We just wanted to have a good shift and it was a great play by both D’s (Slavin and Brett Pesce), and it was an empty-netter for me,” Aho said.
It showed a resiliency Ryan said was lacking even last season.
“It gets pretty slow there when they’re doing their review, then it gets overturned,” Ryan said. “So you can lose some momentum there. It’s nice to just grab it back right away and get the lead, obviously, and just have the momentum, too.”
“That’s mental toughness from the guys,” Hurricanes coach Bill Peters added. “You don’t want a lull or a sag there. You’re not getting that (review) call against Pittsburgh very often. You know what I mean? You’re not getting it in Pitt — I thought we might get it here, but it didn’t happen that way.”
Carolina also had to overcome an early deficit.
The Hurricanes had made a habit of late scoring early in games, but it was the Penguins who would strike first early in the first period.
Pittsburgh started the rush, and Hurricanes winger Justin Williams got tangled up with Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist at the blue line. That opened up the middle of the ice, and Brian Dumoulin — a former second round pick by Carolina who was dealt to the Penguins in the Jordan Staal trade — jumped into the rush and fired the puck past Cam Ward (27 saves) to make it 1-0 just 4:34 in.
Ward was again rock-solid after that, allowing just one goal for the third time in four starts and improving to 10-2-1 on the season.
“I think, start to finish, we played a really good game,” said Carolina defenseman Jaccob Slavin, who played a major role in holding Penguins captain Sidney Crosby to no points and just two shot attempts. “Obviously, I think it started from the net out. Wardo played a heck of a game, and then forwards moving and getting behind their D and I think we really got on them in the O zone.”
Ryan — celebrating his 31st birthday — got his eighth goal of the season 6:25 into the middle frame to knot the game.
Elias Lindholm carried the puck up ice and tried to get off a shot but ran out room. He looped behind the Penguins net and pushed the puck to Ryan at the left post for the equalizer.
“Doc got to the National Hockey League at a later age than most, but he’s sure playing well right now,” Peters said.
Notes: Hurricanes center Marcus Kruger did not play due to injury, and the fourth line was used sparingly as a result. Joakim Nordstrom led the trio with 6:27 (1:56 came shorthanded), while Josh Jooris and Phil Di Giuseppe combined for less than 10 minutes of ice time. … Lucas Wallmark, recalled from AHL Charlotte this afternoon, did not play but could slot in tomorrow in St. Louis. … Pittsburgh won the faceoff battle 37-25, with Crosby leading the way by winning 15 of 22 draws. Victor Rask (8 of 11) was the only Hurricanes player to win more than half his faceoffs. … Klas Dahlbeck played 19:13, the most he has ever logged with the Hurricanes. His previous high with Carolina was 19 minutes even last season on March 23 in Montreal. … The Hurricanes left for St. Louis after the game and will play the Blues at 8 p.m. Scott Darling will make his first start in net since an 8-1 drubbing in Toronto on Dec. 19, the team’s only loss in its last eight games. The Blues lost 4-2 in Dallas on Friday night.