RALEIGH — The Carolina Hurricanes’ long, slow climb up the Eastern Conference standings reached another milestone Saturday.
The Canes are in a playoff spot.
Carolina got two goals in the first 8:31 of the game, then were the supporting act in the Petr Mrazek show in a 3-0 win over the Dallas Stars in front of 14,365 at PNC Arena.
“He’s amazing. He kept us in that whole game, I think,” said Hurricanes forward Brock McGinn, who scored one of Carolina’s first period goals, of Mrazek. “Really in the second period there, he made some unbelievable saves, and I think we really feed off that and it gives our team a lot of energy.”
A night after the Hurricanes got a 40-save, 3-1 win from Curtis McElhinney, Mrazek was as good if not better, stopping 33 shots for his third shutout this season with Carolina.
“The last two games home, the energy in the building was great, and I think that’s part of it,” Mrazek said. “Guys know about it — a lot of energy in the building, in the dressing room.”
The Hurricanes got an early lead thanks to their top line.
A good defensive zone play by Nino Niederreiter sent the Hurricanes on a 2-on-1 rush, and Sebastian Aho drew the defender toward him before getting a pass across to Justin Williams, whose quick wrister beat Stars goalie Anton Khudobin to make it 1-0 at 5:09.
Carolina pushed the lead to two shortly thereafter when a nifty zone entry by Andrei Svechnikov and a keep at the blue line by Justin Faulk led to McGinn’s backhand goal at 8:31 of the first.
After that, the ice was mostly tilted in Dallas’ favor, but they didn’t have any answer for Mrazek.
“We gave up way too many Grade-A opportunities, but Petr was a step ahead,” coach Rod Brind’Amour said of his goalie’s performance. “Even on the backdoor stuff, you could see him just reading the play. He made four or five in the first period — that could’ve been a totally different game had those gone in.”
The Hurricanes added a power play goal late, with Svechnikov setting up Micheal Ferland perfectly for his 16th goal of the season with less than four minutes remaining to seal the victory.
The Hurricanes are now 15-5-1 in their last 21 games, a run that began with a win on New Year’s Eve. Saturday’s victory gave Carolina two more points in the standings, giving them 68 and pushing them past the Pittsburgh Penguins for the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
“I think everybody’s got their eye on that,” McGinn said of the standings. “We want to be in the playoffs, so I think every period and every game is so crucial for us right now. And I think we’re doing a good job of showing that.”
But Brind’Amour was not going to express satisfaction with being above the playoff cutline in mid-February.
“At what point does it matter? It matters by the end of the year,” he said. “That’s when it matters. So we’ve got a long way to go, and we’re certainly not going to be satisfied because we’re in now. It counts in about a month and a half.
Notes: The Hurricanes were pummeled in the faceoff circle, winning just 19 of 55. … Ferland played in his 300th NHL game. … The Stars were shut out for the fifth time this season.