RALEIGH — The opening minutes of the Carolina Hurricanes’ game against the Edmonton Oilers seemed to indicate the 14,340 fans at PNC Arena were in for a track meet.
But after the two teams exchanged three goals in the first 2:16, the rest of the way was a goaltenders’ duel.
Curtis McElhinney bested Mikko Koskinen, stopping 40 shots, and Nino Niederreiter had his third two-goal game since coming to Carolina to give the Hurricanes a 3-1 win and two crucial points in the standings.
“We just battled. We hung in there, and our goaltender was great tonight and that was probably the difference in the game,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said.
The start was frantic.
First, Niederreiter jumped in the slot and buried a shot past Koskinen (24 saves) to make it 1-0 just 37 seconds in.
Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl answered less than a minute later, tapping in a Zack Kassian pass on a 2-on-1 rush to tie the game at 1:32
But Carolina wasn’t done, and Lucas Wallmark one-timed a Teuvo Teravainen pass from the wing for his seventh goal of the season and a 2-1 lead in a frantic handful of shifts.
After that, PNC Arena announcer Wade Minter traded in his trademark goal calls for the dulcet tones of his penalty announcements. Four penalties were called in the second period, including matching minors on Carolina’s Jordan Martinook and Edmonton’s Ryan Nugent-Hopkins following a post-whistle scrum late in an increasingly chippy the middle frame.
Most of the puck action was in front of McElhinney, who — after allowing the Draisaitl goal on the first shot he faced — made several tough saves in tight to keep Carolina ahead.
“I think we’re just kind of getting critical plays at critical times right now,” McElhinney said of the Hurricanes’ 7-2-1 run in the last 10 games. “Obviously, we know what the situation is, and it’s going to take a lot for us to get in the playoffs. But the guys have been rolling since before the break, and we came out of it pretty hot. It’s just a matter of gas pedal to the floor.”
That hot streak coincides almost perfectly with Niederreiter’s arrival. The Swiss power forward, acquired straight up from Minnesota for Victor Rask on Jan. 17, has scored nearly as many times (eight) in his 12 games with the Hurricanes as he did in his first 46 games with the Wild (nine).
His latest came with less than four minutes left in the game, when he took a perfectly feathered pass from Sebastian Aho on a 2-on-1 rush and fainted a backhand only to go back to his forehand and ride the puck up Koskinen’s stick and in for the final nail in the coffin.
After taking two penalties in the second period — including a boarding infraction when he drove Oilers defenseman Oscar Klembom head-first into the boards out of frustration after being on the receiving end of a similar hit moments earlier and not getting a call — Niederreiter was glad to be able to finish off the team’s win.
“That happens sometimes in hockey,” Niederreiter said of his hit on Klembof. “At the end of the day, you don’t want to hurt anyone on the ice. It happens sometimes, but I’m glad I had a chance to get it back and put a goal in.”
The win puts Carolina at 30-22-6 for 66 points — one behind Columbus and Pittsburgh, who hold the third-place spot in the Metropolitan Division and final wild-card spot, respectively, in the Eastern Conference.
“I feel like everybody knows exactly what kind of position we’re in,” Niederreiter said. “Everybody needs to get points to make the playoffs, and I feel like we’re right there. We need a big push to get there, and I think every single game matters a lot. So we gotta make sure we win the close wins.”
Notes: The Hurricanes won the faceoff battle 41-28 Friday, something that has happened rarely since Jordan Staal went down with a concussion. Wallmark led the way by winning 14 of 18. … Aho and Justin Williams each had two assists. … While he was a threat all night, Connor McDavid was kept off the scoresheet. He now has one goal and four assists in six career games against the Hurricanes. Carolina is one of only three teams to have held McDavid to less than a point per game average against them thus far in his career. Nashville (nine points in 10 games) and the Islanders (four points in six games) are the others.