RALEIGH — For the second time in as many games, the Hurricanes entered the third period with a one-goal lead. After getting run over by the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday, Carolina was looking for a different result against the visiting Minnesota Wild.
The “We want playoffs!” chant from the crowd of 16,751 Saturday at PNC Arena with less than 10 minutes remaining signaled they got it.
Teuvo Teravainen kicked off the third period with a beautiful spin-and-dish play to Andrei Svechnikov, and then he capped off Carolina’s three-goal third period with a breakaway goal that left Minnesota goalie Devyn Dubnyk throwing his stick in desperation as the Hurricanes beat the Wild 5-1.
“Obviously, we didn’t do the things we needed to do against Tampa, and tonight we made sure to address those things and we did the right things and it worked itself out,” said defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk, who dunked the crowd into March Madness with a slam during the postgame Storm Surge.
The win gave Carolina its 41st win, assuring the Hurricanes will get victories in at least half of their games this season. But with eight games remaining, the surging Canes know there’s still work to be done.
“There’s still too much hockey to even think that way for me,” coach Rod Brind’Amour said when asked about the team closing in on a playoff berth. “It’s just keeping us focused. I love the way the guys prepare. That’s the thing. We’ve been talking about one day at a time, one game at a time. And that’s the only way to do it.”
There’s no time for rest given that the Montreal Canadiens — coming off a win of their own Saturday and two points behind Carolina with seven games left — come to town for a game Sunday.
“We just have to win them,” Brind’Amour said. “There’s just no way around it. Nobody’s going to lose that’s around us. We’ve got to go do it. And I think the good news for us is that at least it’s in our hands.”
The Hurricanes first had to take control of the Wild.
After a 0-0 first period, the Hurricanes finally solved Dubynk (28 saves) three minutes into the second when a nifty give-and-go between Teravainen and Justin Faulk led to a punch chance by the Carolina defenseman. The shot hit Jordan Staal in front and went in for a 1-0 lead.
Carolina padded its lead 2½ minutes later. Captain Justin Williams found a trailing Brett Pesce, who fired a shot in to make it 2-0 at 5:32 of the middle frame.
But the Hurricanes’ momentum was stalled when Micheal Ferland was called for a four-minute high sticking penalty. Carolina’s penalty kill was up to the task for the first three minutes, but former Hurricanes captain Eric Staal banked a shot in off Petr Mrazek (24 saves) and in to cut the lead in half at 8:57.
That set up another big final period — and this time, Carolina was ready for it.
“We came in here in the third and we learned from the (Tampa Bay game), and we came out confident,” Pesce said.
After Teravainen set up Svechnikov’s aforementioned 19th goal, Ferland redeemed himself near the third period’s midway point, zipping a cross-ice pass to Lucas Wallmark for a quick finish gave Carolina a three-goal cushion.
Two minutes and three seconds later, Teravainen stole the puck in the Minnesota end and skated in alone on Dubynk, turning the Wild goalie inside out for his 19th goal of the season and a 5-1 lead.
“That’s pretty impressive. High-end plays,” Brind’Amour said of Teravainen’s three-point night. “He’s also taken his game to another level this year on the defensive side of things. Those plays, he can make those. He’s capable of those high-end offensive plays. Tonight, you saw them.”
There was even some policing of the frustrated Wild by the 5-foot-11, 191-pound Finnish winger, who stepped up for Svechnikov after he was hit near the teams’ benches.
“I don’t know that he knew what he was doing there,” Brind’Amour said with a smile. “But this team plays for each other. That’s one thing, I don’t think necessarily (we) want him doing that, really. But to me, it shows what the mindset is.”
It’s a growing attitude that has the Hurricanes looking more and more likely to snap their nine-season playoff drought — and they’re having fun doing it.
“It’s awesome,” Pesce said. “Personally, I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun playing hockey. … We’re confident in our group, and we’re looking forward to the end.
Notes: Both Teravainen and Sebastian Aho earned their 50th assists of the season, becoming the first Hurricanes to reach that number since Ray Whitney in 2008-09. Whitney and Rod Brind’Amour were the last two Carolina teammates to reach that amount in the same season (2006-07). Aho also reached 80 points with the assist, the first Hurricanes player to reach that total since Eric Staal in 2007-08. … Pesce now has seven goals on the season. He had nine total in his first three seasons. … Pesce was plus-5 on the night, while Faulk was plus-4 and the line of Teravainen-Staal-Svechnikov was plus-3.