RALEIGH — Carolina Hurricanes coach Bill Peters has seen plenty of hockey fights this season, just not in person.
“I watched a lot on TV. I watch games every night,” he said after the Hurricanes’ 3-2 overtime win over the Florida Panthers. “In our building? It’s been awhile.”
The Hurricanes made up for lost time on Saturday night, scrapping with the Panthers more than a half-dozen times in a hard-fought game.
“A couple of teams showed they really wanted it,” said Canes goalie Cam Ward. “It was going to come down to who wanted it the most.”
Carolina jumped on top early, courtesy of a first-period goal by Elias Lindholm.
The two teams then settled in for a battle of attrition in a violent, but scoreless second period.
“Obviously, they were trying to engage us, thinking they could push us around,” Ward said. “They got a lot of pushback. I’m old school. I like that sort of thing.”
One of the scraps made history in a couple of different ways. Noah Hanifin squared off against Florida’s Derek MacKenzie with 5:42 left in the second, earning a five-minute major. It was Carolina’s first major of the year, in the team’s 25th game. That’s the latest in the season the Hurricanes have gone before getting a major, shattering the old mark by five games.
It was also Hanifin’s first career fight.
“The last time was probably with my little brother or something,” Hanifin joked afterward. “It was good to get it over with. (Justin) Faulk taught me a few things. He’s had a few fights, and I think he knows what he’s doing.”
“Hani got in a fight,” Ward marveled, tongue in cheek. “Come on. I mean, that’s awesome. Kudos to him for showing that.”
Hanifin wasn’t the only one. Peters urged the team to toughen up after a rough 5-1 loss in New York on Friday night.
“Last night was tough,” Hanifin said. “We wanted to rebound and show some energy and character today. We weren’t too happy with the outcome last night. Coming home with a long road trip coming up, we wanted to show some fight before we went on that.”
“Guys were competing, pushing and shoving, trying to gain every inch possible,” Peters said of the second period scrums. He also singled out a Joakim Nordstrom blocked shot late in the period as a key moment.
“Nordy laying down and blocking that shot, that gives you juice,” he said. “You’re sitting on the bench. You might be tired. It’s back-to-back. You might have had a little bit of travel, and all of a sudden, you see a guy selling out like that. It doesn’t leave you any wiggle room not to do the same.”
For Peters, the secret to Carolina’s success was as simple as being willing to mix it up in front of the goal.
“We talked about it prior to the game,” he said. “Go in close to the blue paint.”
In the third period, after Florida tied the score, the Canes followed Peters’ advice. Jeff Skinner batted down the puck and charged the goal, flipping it in at the last second to give Carolina a late lead.
“Skinner was running out of room,” Peters said. “He’s got great hands. He was close to the blue paint, and he scores.”
Florida tied it again with 1:56 remaining, and the game went to overtime. With two seconds remaining in the extra period, following furious end-to-end action for the final minute, Hanifin scored the game winner.
“Hanifin scores right in front of the blue paint too,” Peters said. “There’s no secret, right? You’ve just got to get competitive enough to go there and pay the price. You’re not going to score every time you go to the blue paint, but it definitely increases your odds.”
The win gave Ward his 299th career victory.
“The game got a little bit chippy,” he said. “I’m proud of our guys for sticking up for one another and having that mentality that if somebody messes with one of us they’ve got to mess with all of us. … I love that wolfpack mentality — sticking up for one another and being there to answer the bell.”