McKegg leads Hurricanes to third straight win in debut

Journeyman center has a goal and an assist in Carolina's 4-2 win over Columbus

Hurricanes center Greg McKegg, right, celebrates his goal against the Blue Jackets with defenseman Brett Pesce during Carolina's 4-2 win Friday at PNC Arena. (Gerry Broome / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — The Carolina Hurricanes have been looking for more goals all season, and they got some in their two previous games against the spiraling Flyers. Friday’s home matchup against the Columbus Blue Jackets figured to require even more firepower.

No one expected it to come from Greg McKegg.

Playing his first game with the Hurricanes since being acquired from Pittsburgh at last season’s trade deadline, McKegg had a goal and an assist to lead Carolina to a 4-2 victory and its third straight win in front of 15,346 Friday at PNC Arena.

The Hurricanes got off to a fast start, scoring twice in the first seven minutes. But the Blue Jackets came out strong to start the second period and were threatening to get back in the game. That was until McKegg — who has 23 points in 31 games with the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers this season — got his first goal with the Hurricanes.

Defenseman Brett Pesce fired a pass through the slot that McKegg redirected into the net to make it 3-0 at 6:52 of the second period. That goal chased Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who was replaced by Joonas Korpisalo, making it the second time in three games Carolina forced its opponent to pull the goalie.

“You never know when it’s going to come again, and you’ve just got to keep grinding away,” said McKegg, playing for his fifth NHL team in seven pro seasons after being recalled earlier in the day. “Like I said, to contribute at this level at any point in your career is obviously special.”

McKegg was recalled to replace the injured Clark Bishop, centering the fourth line between Saku Maenalanen (playing his third NHL game) and Warren Foegele (a rookie himself). Not only did McKegg and company eat minutes on the back end of back-to-back games, they often wrestled control of the game away from Columbus when the Blue Jackets made a push.

“They were the difference. No doubt,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “They were probably our best line overall. If you look at their shifts, they didn’t have too many bad ones. They pretty much dominated every shift they were out. And obviously, the goals help, but (they were) just changing the kind of momentum of the game.”

That started early when Foegele drew a penalty by undressing Norris Trophy candidate Seth Jones, leading to Carolina’s first power play of the night. At the tail end of the man advantage, Sebastian Aho set up Micheal Ferland in the slot for a one-timer just as the penalty expired to make it 1-0 at 5:16.

Eighty-two seconds later, the fourth line was at it again.

Dougie Hamilton made it 2-0 with a wrist shot, set up by McKegg, that hit Columbus goalie Bobrovsky’s glove and trickled in.

“It helps, I think,” Hamilton said of his growing confidence after scoring his fifth goal of the year and second in as many nights. “You just play the same way, but some of them go in, some of them don’t, and just try to stick with it.”

It was McKegg’s first point with Carolina, while Saku Maenalenen got the other assist for his first NHL point.

McKegg’s goal then gave Carolina a 3-0 lead for the third straight game.

The Blue Jackets, however, made a game of it with two goals in 25 seconds late in the second.

Oliver Bjorkstrand got Columbus on the board with a wrist shot that seemed to deflect off Carolina defender Jaccob Slavin’s stick and flutter into the corner of the net at 15:40 of the middle frame.

Then Artemi Panarin jumped on a loose puck in the Hurricanes zone and buried it to make it 3-2 with less than four minutes remaining in the second.

The Hurricanes held on, however, getting an empty net goal from Aho and 22 saves from Curtis McElhinney to win their third straight as they attempt to re-enter a playoff race they trail by eight points.

“I notice that when we need a save he gets it,” Brind’Amour said of McElhinney, who improved to 9-5-1 on the year. “They had a lot of rush opportunities and they were flying at us. You’re kind of like, ‘Oh no,’ but he calms it down. He makes the big save when he has to, gets a whistle when he has to. … Whatever we need, he’s been great all year.”

But the bulk of the praise went to the newly formed fourth line.

“They did more tonight than just kind of fill a spot. They contributed,” Brind’Amour said. “And you guys are talking about them, so they were noticeable. And that’s what we need. If we have any chance to kind of get back in this, we need everybody to contribute, and tonight was one of those nights.”

Notes: McKegg’s two points marked his first multipoint game of his 92-game NHL career. Aho had his eighth multipoint game of the season. … McKegg and Maenalanen are the 23rd and 24th players to earn points for the Hurricanes this season. … Friday’s game was the first since Oct. 26 that Andrei Svechnikov did not record a shot on goal. It is just the third time in his career he has not recorded a shot on goal.