RALEIGH — Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour has oftentimes said that in order to win, the best players need to be your best players. On Friday night, Carolina’s best were its worst.
The Winnipeg Jets scored four times in the first period and coasted to an 8-1 win in front of 15,928 at PNC Arena. First-liners Sebastian Aho (minus-5) and Nino Niederreiter (a team-record minus-6) were on the ice for the Jets’ first five goals, and captain Justin Williams (minus-4) was on for four as goalie Curtis McElhinney was left unprotected in the Hurricanes’ most resounding defeat of the season.
“Obviously, it’s not something we want to see and certainly not acceptable,” Brind’Amour said. “Haven’t had one of those this year, really. We’ve had a couple bad games, for sure, but nothing like that. So that’s a little shocking. I didn’t expect that at all.”
Defenseman Justin Faulk had an even blunter evaluation of the team’s performance.
“That’s not OK,” he said of the game. “We can live with the loss if we all show up and work our balls off. That didn’t happen tonight.”
The loss stung twice as much given Carolina’s tenuous hold on a playoff spot. After the games, the Hurricanes have 79 points in 67 games and hold the first of two wild-card spots in the Eastern Conference. Montreal, in the second wild-card spot with as many points but one more game already played, were in Anaheim on Friday with a chance to move ahead, while Columbus — trailing Carolina by two points — was idle.
The good news is the Hurricanes are right back at it Saturday in Nashville with a shot at redemption.
“It just depends on what we do the next day, and we’re lucky enough that we play tomorrow and try to get past this,” Faulk said. “But that can’t happen. We’re not in the position to let that happen. We need every point we can get.”
The Jets caught the Hurricanes flat-footed at the start, scoring three times in the first half of the opening period, and Carolina never regained its balance.
First, trade deadline acquisition Kevin Hayes got his second goal with the Jets at 2:58, taking a second whack at the puck after his initial shot was blocked and beating McElhinney on the blocker side to make it 1-0.
Less than three minutes later, Winnipeg rushed up the ice and Patrik Laine found a trailing Blake Wheeler for a quick shot and a 2-0 lead at 5:48.
Then with the teams at 4-on-4 after Carolina captain Justin Williams and the Jets’ Dmitry Kulikov were sent to the box with matching minors, Winnipeg extended its lead to three.
With the puck in the Carolina zone, Kyle Connor saw Jets defenseman Ben Chiarot shake free from Nieddereiter. Connor found Chiarot in the high slot and he beat McElhinney (21 saves) to make it 3-0 at just 9:16 into the game.
“We addressed it a little bit after the game, but that was — what happened in the first 10 minutes of the game, what happened in the last three minutes of that game was totally, totally inexcusable and something that, quite frankly, we’re all ashamed of,” Williams said.
Then with 76 seconds left in the opening period, Nikolaj Ehlers added his 17th goals of the season for a 4-0 lead.
A mostly uneventful second period ended with Andrew Copp making it 5-0 with just 31 seconds left in the middle frame.
The Hurricanes did break up the shutout in the third when Greg McKegg redirected a Calvin de Haan pass past Laurent Brossoit (28 saves) shortly after a Carolina power play expired to make it 5-1, but not before injury was added to insult.
Micheal Ferland — who was a game-time decision after leaving Tuesday’s game in Boston with an injury — left Friday’s game in the third period after Kulikov checked him and the crown of the Jets defenseman’s helmet caught Ferland in the jaw.
“He’s still in the training room, so I don’t know,” Brind’Amour responded when asked about Ferland’s status.
Connor, Copp and Adam Lowry added more salt to the wound the third for Winnipeg, the last two goals coming in the final minute with the Hurricanes playing their bottom six forwards to avoid any more injuries.
While the team had already checked out of an embarrassing loss, it was clear the Hurricanes were already thinking ahead about the chance to redeem themselves.
“We’ve always answered the bell this year so far, and it’s time to do it again,” Williams said. “At this time of the year, a game like that can go one way or the other. So, we’ve answered the bell and we’re going to do it tomorrow.”
Notes: Lucas Wallmark led all Hurricanes with six shots on goal and 11 shot attempts. He was also 12 of 15 on faceoffs. … Niederreiter’s minus-6 is a franchise worst. In franchise history, 11 players — including Brind’Amour — registered a minus-5. … All but four Jets skaters registered a point.