The Carolina Hurricanes followed up their best effort the season with an even better one, dominating the Tampa Bay Lightning in a 4-0 win at PNC Arena that moved them into first place in the Central Division at 12-3-1 and 25 points.
Alex Nedeljkovic recorded his first career shutout, while Vincent Trocheck, Sebastian Aho and Cedric Paquette scored. Andre Svechnikov snapped his seven-game goal drought with an empty-net goal.
1. The NHL shuffled around the schedule and dropped in a game against last year’s Stanley Cup champion for Saturday against the Hurricanes. That made it the first of four straight the teams will play against each other, giving Carolina a chance to measure itself against the Lightning.
Game 1 was quite an opening statement.
The Hurricanes dominated much of the night, finally seizing the lead early in the second period and never letting go. Carolina avoided penalties, which allowed it to roll four balanced lines that gave the Lightning fits all over the ice.
The Hurricanes got goals from three of those lines, and their defense — with a seemingly all-the-way back Jaccob Slavin, an active Dougie Hamilton (game-high nine shot attempts) and an emerging Jake Bean — disrupted Tampa Bay when the Lightning were actually able to get by the hard-checking Carolina forwards in the neutral zone.
“It’s a great test because you’re playing the best,” coach Rod Brind’Amour said after the win. “You could see there was not a lot of room. Every inch was fought for out there, and that’s what you have to be. Earlier we said we’ve got to play these guys four times in a row, but it’s a great test for us to see how it’s done.
“They play it right, and we had to tonight to win.”
2. The Hurricanes shuffled their lineup Saturday, both out of choice and necessity. Haydn Fleury, who had been a healthy scratch the past three games, was reinserted into the lineup and played aside Jake Bean. With Jake Gardiner the odd-man out, Bean — who now has four points in the last four games — also quarterbacked Carolina’s second power play unit.
Up front, Teuvo Teravainen missed the game with an upper-body injury, which put Steven Lorentz back in. It also led to a lot of line shuffling. The Trocheck line stayed intact, but Svechnikov moved into Teravainen’s spot on Aho’s wing, Jesper Fast filled in for him on the Jordan Staal line, and Paquette moved to the wing aside Lorentz.
Even without Teravainen, the Hurricanes continued to roll.
The one intact line opened the scoring when Trocheck scored at 2:19 of the second period. Then Aho and Svechnikov — together but not at all unfamiliar with each other — hooked up when Carolina’s forecheck forced a turnover and Svechnikov’s backhanded keep at the blue line found Aho in the clear. Aho deked and lifted the puck into the roof of the net over Andrei Vasilevskiy (24 saves) for a 2-0 lead.
“We have a good team, and we have a solid D corps,” Aho said. “A lot of depth in the forwards and, obviously, three great goalies. So, yeah, it’s good.”
3. While the Hurricanes won this game with a thoroughly dominant overall effort, Nedeljkovic’s first career shutout shouldn’t go unnoticed. It’s been a long and bumpy path for the 25-year-old goalie, who has been one of the AHL’s top netminders for the past three years but hasn’t been able to win a job in Raleigh.
Petr Mrazek’s injury gave Nedeljkovic his latest chance, and after three outings that saw him 1-1-1 and with statistics eerily similar to the mediocre ones he put up in a four-game recall last season, he earned his first career shutout Saturday with 24 saves.
“You’re just happy for the kid,” Brind’Amour said. “He’s been a part of the organization for a long time and kind of paid his dues and waited his time — this was just nice to see. He looked good tonight and he was ready to go. He needed to make some big saves for us tonight, and he did.”
Number To Know
2 — Shutouts for the Hurricanes in two games against the Lightning this season. Carolina beat Tampa Bay 1-0 in overtime on Jan. 28 in the teams’ first meeting of the season — behind 32 saves from Mrazek — and matched the effort Saturday in the 4-0 win.
They Said It
“We need to take a little break. This is the grind. I feel like we’ve just kept playing — I don’t even know how many games we played, and it doesn’t get any easier. The mental fatigue is what we have to really guard against here coming up; really this whole year now.”
— Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour on the relentless nature of the 2020-21 season
Cedric Paquette, Hurricanes forward — Paquette is clearly not the sentimental type. Playing for the first time against the team he spent all but 13 of his 390 career NHL games with, Paquette not only scored but also mixed it up with the Lightning. It was a perfect reunion with his old team.
“I think you couldn’t write a better script than that,” Paquette said. “Only my fourth game here and against my old teammates, so it was nice to finally get one.”
Haydn Fleury, Hurricanes defenseman — Fleury played fine, but the emergence of Bean again makes his place in the lineup a question mark. The 2014 seventh overall pick had a breakthrough during last year’s return-to-play, but he’s now gone 13 games this season without a point and looks like he’s the team’s No. 7 defenseman again.