RALEIGH — A crowd that was as rowdy as possible before Saturday’s matinee against the Philadelphia Flyers wasn’t nearly as loud in the third period. It wasn’t because the Carolina Hurricanes were on their way to dropping a third straight game in the heat of a tight playoff race, it was because the home team was up one goal and the nearly packed PNC Arena was full of people looking for breathing room and two crucial points in the standings.
“I kind of wished we were up by another one because it was a little too close for comfort,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said, echoing the collective mood of the 17,833 at PNC Arena.
The team’s exchanged third-period power play goals — first by Carolina, then a quick answer by Philadelphia — setting up a tense final six minutes.
Then Philadelphia, with Carolina’s Justin Williams in the box with 3:30 left and their playoff hopes on the line, pulled goalie Cam Talbot for a sixth attacker.
But as he does done many times down the stretch, goalie Petr Mrazek stood tall, making two huge stops and then assisting on Jaccob Slavin’s length-of-the-ice empty-net goal that sealed the win for the Hurricanes.
“That was a nice one,” Mrazek said. “I saw (Brett Pesce) coming at it, I just give it to him and a great shot by Slavo.”
A second empty-netter by Brock McGinn sent the crowd, as desperate as the Hurricanes to return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, into celebration mode — and home with a 5-2 win.
“It was huge,” defenseman Dougie Hamilton said of the win. “We know where we are, where the standings are and everyone behind us and stuff, so we need as many points as we can and see what happens.”
Hamilton was joined Slavin and Justin Faulk in the goal column Saturday — giving Carolina’s collective defense 43 on the season — and pushed the Hurricanes even closer to reaching the postseason.
“Everyone likes the meaningful games and meaningful situations,” Hamilton said. “I think everyone in here will tell you that’s why we play. You want to play in these games, play in the playoffs. … It’s a lot more fun right now to be doing that and getting wins and stuff, so hopefully we can keep going.”
The pressure was on early after the Flyers got the first goal.
Philadelphia captain Claude Giroux, in a 10-game goal drought, converted an odd-man rush with Corbin Knight, one-timing a puck past Mrazek that made it 1-0 at 12:05 of the first.
The Hurricanes got two quick ones to bounce back.
The first came on the power play, with Williams making a power move to the net that led to a scramble at the goal mouth. Teuvo Teravainen found the loose puck and fired it past Talbot (27 saves) for his 20th goal of the season and a tie at 13:35. It was Carolina’s first power play goal since March 9.
Just 21 seconds later, the Hurricanes grabbed the lead.
Again, the puck was loose in front and Hamilton — who had started the rush up the ice — swooped around the net and found the rebound for his 16th goal of the year for a 2-1 lead with just over six minutes left in the first.
A goalless second period set up the tense third. The Hurricanes got some relief when Faulk bombed a one-timer from the point on the power play at 11:57 to pad the lead, but Oskar Lindblom answered with a man-advantage goal to make it 3-2 with less than seven minutes remaining.
But unlike Thursday’s loss to Washington, the Hurricanes were able to hold on to the third-period lead and bank two more points. Carolina remained in the first wild-card spot and now has 93 points with four games remaining, two behind Pittsburgh for third in the Metropolitan Division and three ahead of both Columbus and Montreal. The Blue Jackets hold the second wild-card spot because they have one more game remaining than the other three teams.