RALEIGH — The Hurricanes came into Wednesday’s home game against Montreal winners of five of six. The three days off for Christmas, however, seemed to erase much of the team’s momentum.
That is until the third period, when Carolina turned a tie game into a one-sided affair, dominating play in a 3-1 win over the Canadiens in front of 14,880 at PNC Arena.
Just shy of the midway point of the third period, the Hurricanes converted on their third power play opportunity when Sebastian Aho’s third-chance effort got by Montreal all-world goalie Carey Price for the game-winner. Aho later added an empty-netter to reach 10 goals on the season.
“We just have to make some plays and when we have chances put the puck in the net,” Aho plainly stated.
The power play goal marked the third game in a row Carolina has scored with the man advantage, and the win was the team’s sixth in seven games and fifth in a row at home.
“So I liked our start, I liked our finish,” Hurricanes coach Bill Peters said, “the fact that we only gave up five shots in the third when the game’s tied at the time 1-1.”
The Hurricanes didn’t get a goal in the opening minute like they did in the two games before the Christmas break, but they did manage another quick start.
Carolina defenseman Justin Faulk held the puck in the zone with his skate and curled to find Teuvo Tervainen for a one-timer and a 1-0 lead just 3:44 into the game. It was the ninth goal of the year for Teravainen and his first in 17 games as the Hurricanes outshot Montreal 16-6 in the first.
That quick start was supplemented by fantastic early goaltending by Cam Ward, who stopped two Montreal breakaways and made other show-stopping saves that kept the game tight.
“We didn’t give up much in the first, but when we did it was big, and he was huge for us there,” Peters said.
The win moved Ward (23 saves) to 9-3-1 on the season, and he has seemingly wrestled the starting job away from a thus far underwhelming Scott Darling.
“I think we’re starting to see some swagger from the guys,” said Ward, who was starting his third straight game. “That’s confidence, right? You get into a bit of a rhythm, you start winning hockey games and now we’re more talkative in the locker room and more talkative on the ice and trying to help one another. It’s been all positive signs.”
Montreal’s Alex Galchenyuk tied the game 5:19 into the middle frame with a sizzling short-side wrist shot that beat Ward’s glove hand to the tie the game.
But that was all that would get by Ward, and Galchenyuk’s third period penalty — his second of the game — opened the door for Carolina to win the special teams battle on Aho’s power play goal.
“It’s always a big part of every game,” said co-captain Jordan Staal, who in his 800th NHL game had an assist on Aho’s game-winner. “There’ll be a few games every year where you might lose (the) special teams battle and still win, but more often than not you’re going to have to win power play and PK if you want to win games.”
On top of the penalty kill easily handling 2:14 of shorthanded time, the Hurricanes got big contributions from their fourth line on a night when the second and third lines centered by Derek Ryan and Victor Rask seemed rusty.
“The Staal line was really good, and the Kruger line was really good,” Peters said. “And the other two were hit and miss a little bit. I thought the intent was good from both those lines, but I thought just a little bit off in execution, right?”
Kruger’s line, with Joakim Nordstrom and Phil Di Giuseppe on the wings, combined to play nearly 34 minutes at even strength. It was Kruger who drew the penalty that led to Aho’s first goal, and Nordstrom played right to end by blocking a shot on a penalty kill after the empty net goal had already sealed the game, hobbling to the room as time ticked away.
His coach noticed.
“Well, he does need to block it, right?” Peters said. “Because you’ve got to play right all the time. … Nordy’s a heart-and-soul guy. He’s going to play right all the way right to the final buzzer.”
And so did his teammates, including his goalie.
“There’s a 3-1 hockey game and you look at Nordstrom throwing the body and taking a huge block when, really, there’s 15 seconds to go in the game,” Ward said. “That just shows the character that these guys have in the locker room that they’re doing anything and everything to get a win right now.”
The Hurricanes are winning, and their climb up the Eastern Conference standings — they’re just three points behind the Rangers and Islanders with a game in hand — continues.
Notes: It was the seventh multi-goal game of Aho’s career and second this season. Carolina is 6-0-1 when Aho scores at least twice. … Aho had four two-goal games after the calendar flipped to 2017 last season and scored 17 of his 24 goals starting in January. … Faulk has points in three straight. … Ward last lost in regulation on Nov. 2 and has since gone 8-0-1 with one no decision.