Sebastian Aho scored two shorthanded goals and Martin Necas had three assists to lead the Hurricanes to a 4-2 win over the Panthers on Thursday in Florida. Nino Niederreiter and Jordan Martinook also scored for Carolina, and Alex Nedeljkovic earned the win in goal.
1. The Hurricanes’ power play has been lauded all season, but the penalty has been nearly as good. On Thursday, it was the headline-grabber. Carolina killed off eight of nine penalties — only allowing a 5-on-3 goal — and were anchored by three players: Nedeljkovic, Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce.
Nedeljkovic — making the start after Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said Petr Mrazek “tweaked something” — made nine shorthanded stops among his 32 saves. But it was Slavin and Pesce who were the true workhorses.
Slavin logged 11:56 of his 27:05 minutes shorthanded, while Pesce played a career-high 28:18 — 61 seconds more than his previous high set in a shootout loss on April 8, 2017 — and had 9:42 on the penalty kill.
“That’s not how you want to do it, but those guys, they’re warriors,” Brind’Amour said of Slavin and Pesce. “Both those guys, the minutes they logged, those are hard, heavy minutes. When you’re on the penalty kill, that’s the hard work time in the game. And those guys, they were great tonight.”
2. The penalty kill also contributed the game-winning goal when Aho and Necas managed a 2-on-0 shorthanded breakaway. What resulted was a thing of beauty, with the duo passing back and forth three times until Aho banged the puck into the net past a helpless Sergei Bobrovsky (25 saves) at 18:08 of the second period.
“I thought I had a breakaway there,” Aho said. “But yeah, he’s fast, he caught me and it was 2-on-0. It kind of surprised me. Obviously, you don’t get many of those. So, it was kind of a funny moment, but happy to be able to score on that.”
Necas, who had three assists, now has a season-best nine points (two goals, seven assists) against the Panthers in seven games, and he has 17 points in 15 games combined against Florida and Tampa Bay.
“I remember since when I was young, we always practiced 2-on-0,” Necas said. “They always say go back and forth. The goalie. I would say 90% of the time, he’s got to move with the pass. And, fortunately, he moved and (Aho) had an empty net.”
They hooked up for another shorthanded goal at the end when Necas’ length-of-the-ice empty-net bid went wide but Aho got to the loose puck for his 20th goal of the season.
3. The win wasn’t without its loss. Martinook — who scored Carolina’s second goal on a pass from Jordan Staal — left the game late in the second period with an apparent right leg injury after a hip check by Florida defenseman Radko Gudas.
“I saw him. He’s pretty sore,” Brind’Amour said of Martinook. “I guess we’ll have more (information) maybe tomorrow. Not really sure, it didn’t look good. I saw the video, the kind of play, but I don’t know — hip checks, the hit from behind. You know, the game’s physical, and it’s just unfortunate sometimes that guys get hurt.”
Martinook’s exit came a game after defenseman Brady Skjei was knocked out of Tuesday’s game and placed in the concussion protocol due to a hit from behind by Tampa Bay’s Blake Coleman. If the injury to Martinook is as serious as it looked, he will join fellow “glue guy” Brock McGinn out of the lineup and cost Carolina a valuable penalty killer. The injury could, however, expedite Teuvo Teravainen’s return to the lineup. Whenever asked about his pass-first winger’s status, Brind’Amour is quick to say the team is waiting on Teravainen — who has been out with a concussion and played just 13 games this season — to give the green light that he’s ready.
The options beyond Teravainen are limited. Max McCormick, who has played in two games with the Hurricanes and one with the AHL’s Chicago Wolves this season, is available, and both Drew Shore and Sheldon Rempal have seen limited action with Carolina this year. Prospects Ryan Suzuki, David Cotton and Jamieson Rees are first-year pros with NHL futures, but all three are probably reaches at this time.
Number To Know
27 — Penalty minutes for the Hurricanes, the most since it had 29 on Oct. 11, 2014, at the Islanders, according to Hockey-Reference.com. Seventeen of those minutes were assessed to defenseman Jay Harrison, who received a two-minute instigator penalty and a 10-minute misconduct along with five minutes for his fight with Matt Martin.
The last time the Hurricanes had as many PIMs as Thursday without a 10-minute penalty and one or fewer fighting majors was Feb. 28, 2004, a 1-0 overtime loss in Montreal. The Hurricanes were called for 11 minors and had one fight — Jesse Boulerice against the Canadiens’ Stephane Quintal.
They Said It
“I’m not a big fan of the fighting, but when you get asked to do it, our guys are bouncing right in there. They don’t back down. I’d rather keep my guys on the ice, but they’re competitive, and this whole group’s competitive. And that’s why we’re in this position.”
— Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour after Cedric Paquette’s first-period scrap with Florida’s Ryan Lomberg made it three straight games the Hurricanes have had a fight.
Alex Nedeljkovic, Hurricanes goalie — Nedeljkovic won his fourth straight start, and he’s allowed just three goals at even strength and four overall during that stretch. His scrambling glove save on Jonathan Huberdeau with just over three minutes left and Carolina up a goal and on the penalty kill was one of the season’s top plays.
“Ned stood on his head, made a terrific play to keep us … in the lead basically, and our PK was definitely terrific,” Niederreiter said.
Dougie Hamilton, Hurricanes defenseman — It’s hard to find fault with any Carolina player, and picking one who was part of the penalty kill is even tougher. But on a night when the Hurricanes needed to lean heavily on two defensemen to get them through, Hamilton was not one of them called upon.
He still played 20:51 — nearly two minutes below his season average — and was on the ice for nearly five minutes shorthanded. But he was also one of nine Carolina players guilty of a minor penalty, and Hamilton had his third game this season without registering a shot on goal after going nearly five years without having such a game.