RALEIGH — Sebastian Aho had a hat trick and the Hurricanes dominated the Blackhawks for a 5-2 win Monday at PNC Arena. Dougie Hamilton and Martin Necas also scored for Carolina, which ran its point streak to 11 games.
The win kept Carolina atop the NHL and Central Division standings with a league-best .740 point percentage and 77 points.
1. There were plenty of bingo squares covered in this one. Power play goal? Check. Back-side one-timer? Done. Goal banked in from below the goal line? Yep. Shot off the post and in off the opposing goalie? Why not.
It was a rough one for the Blackhawks, who pulled Malcolm Subban just before the midway point and seemed to have no answer for the relentless Hurricanes. Chicago even had a goal wiped away by a Hurricanes challenge for goaltender interference when the score was 4-0 in the second period.
“It’s all about sharpening up,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “We have got to stay razor-sharp and find a way to keep getting better.”
2. It doesn’t get easier for the Blackhawks as the two teams will play again Tuesday and then Thursday to finish off the season series. Each night is different in the NHL, but Carolina seems to be firing on all cylinders while the Blackhawks are playing out the string — they were officially eliminated from playoff contention with the loss.
As Brind’Amour said, the team is using the last handful of regular season games to fine-tune its game ahead of the postseason. But just as importantly, the coach doesn’t want his team to let up and get away from what has made it successful.
“That’s the whole name of the game right now,” Brind’Amour said. “Human nature would be easy to let off the gas. We push so hard, got to get in the playoffs, then you’re in and we have to keep getting better. You get to the playoffs, you can’t have bad habits, you can’t have things creep into your game.
“I give those guys a lot of credit. These last three games, it hasn’t been picture-perfect, but we certainly haven’t come off the gas at all. That’s on those guys, doing a great job.”
3. While Chicago sophomore Kirby Dach was slogging through the game, Hurricanes’ second-year forward Necas was making right on a couple tough outings.
“I sucked for the last couple games, I’ve got to say that,” Necas said after snapping his six-game point drought and scoring his first goal in 11 outings in the first period. “So it’s good to get myself going again. I felt way better today. I tried to get involved, make some plays. … So let’s try to keep it going.”
Brind’Amour appreciated Necas’ accountability.
“I think he had a good word for it,” Brind’Amour said when told of Necas saying he had “sucked” of late. “You have to be able to self-evaluate your game. You don’t need me always telling you or the coaches telling you how to play. You should know. You come off, the game’s over, you look in the mirror and you know. That’s good on him. He’ll bounce back, and we need him going down the stretch and in the playoffs.”
Number To Know
15 — Wins this season for Alex Nedeljkovic, who made 16 saves and surpassed Cam Ward for the most wins by a Hurricanes rookie goaltender since the team’s relocation to North Carolina. Ward went 14-8-2 in 2005-06 and won the Conn Smythe Trophy following Carolina’s Stanley Cup victory that season. Two Hartford rookies registered more wins: Peter Sidorkiewicz went 22-18-4 in 1988-89 with the Whalers, and John Garrett was 16-24-11 with Hartford in 1979-80.
They Said It
“It’s pretty nice, but we’re here for the bigger goal.”
— Hurricanes center Sebastian Aho on posting a hat trick
Sebastian Aho, Hurricanes center — Aho got his fourth career hat trick, giving him 24 goals on the season — a 38-goal pace in a normal 82-game campaign. The last time a Hurricanes player had 30 goals in three straight seasons was Eric Staal, who did it four years in a row from 2005-06 to 2008-09. Of course, Aho won’t get there this year (right?) because of the condensed schedule, but he’s built a lead on his teammates and should run away with both the goal and scoring titles for this year’s team.
Aho still thinks there is room to improve.
“You always have that feeling that you can be better,” he said when asked if he was playing his best hockey of the season. “There’s so many situations on the ice. You think (you) could do that better or this better. That’s the kind of mindset I have that I try to make every shift matter. Just to make the right plays on the ice.”
Brind’Amour has always expected great things from Aho, and his No. 1 center’s consistency and 200-foot game got the stamp of approval from the coach following the game.
“He’s very competitive. I love that about him,” Brind’Amour said. “And I think his overall game has gotten better. Just watching him grow as a player has been, really, a pleasure.”
Brady Skjei, Hurricanes defenseman — It was a good news/bad news night for Skjei. The bad news: He was twice shaken up on awkward collisions, first crashing into the end boards and seemingly favoring his left leg and then colliding with the Chicago net on a scoring chance and again hitting the same leg and limping off.
The good news is two-fold. Skjei didn’t miss a shift after either incident despite the obvious discomfort. More importantly, Skjei didn’t suffer a setback in just his third game back from a concussion.