No players, no problems: Short-staffed Hurricanes get points from newcomers in win over Detroit

Limited to 18 players because of a COVID-19 outbreak and a tight salary cap, Carolina two goals from Nino Niederreiter and one from Jack Drury in his NHL debut

Hurricanes forward Jack Drury, goaltender Frederik Andersen and defenseman Brady Skjei defend the net against Red Wings forward Tyler Bertuzzi during Carolina's 5-3 win Thursday in Raleigh. (Chris Seward / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — The Carolina Hurricanes, ravaged by COVID-19 and lacking cap space, played with just 16 skaters Thursday.

No matter — it was still enough to beat Alex Nedeljkovic and the Red Wings.


Nino Niederreiter had his first two-goal game of the season, Jack Drury scored in his NHL debut and Carolina defeated Detroit 5-3 In front of 16,017 at PNC Arena.

Niederreiter opened the scoring on the power play just 2:05 into the game and got the go-ahead goal on the first shift of the third period to spoil Nedeljkovic’s return to Raleigh and give the Hurricanes their fifth win in six games.

“We knew coming into this game that the older guys have got to step up and lead by example, and I think that’s what we did,” Niederreiter said. “The younger guys, they followed us up, and I think it was a really good and gutsy win for us.”

One of those younger guys, Drury, had a storybook first NHL game.

Recalled from the AHL’s Chicago Wolves after the Hurricanes put four more players in the NHL’s COVID protocol Tuesday, Drury was thrown right into the fire with Carolina playing down two forwards.

He emerged from it like Daenerys Targaryen, playing 16:05 — including 1:49 shorthanded — and getting his first goal with his family watching in the stands.

With the game tied 2-2 in the final minutes of a wild first period, Jesperi Kotkaniemi carried the puck up the left boards and maintained possession.

He waited for Drury, who had just come off the bench, to skate into the slot and passed to the rookie. The initial shot was stopped by Nedeljkovic, but Drury beat defenseman Jordan Oesterle to the rebound and fired it in for his first career NHL goal in his debut at 18:40 of the opening period.

“When I was getting on the ice, I was just hoping KK could get it to me, and he made an incredible pass,” Drury said. “I was thinking about making a move at first, but then I just thought, ‘Shoot it.’ And once I was driving to the net, I wasn’t thinking anything — just kind of instinctively reacted.”

On a night when the Hurricanes had three players making their season debuts and were playing with just 10 forwards, they couldn’t afford to break in their new rookie.

“You just let it roll and see what happens, for sure” coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “You just want him to go play. And that’s what I thought he did. He didn’t show any nerves and just went out and played. … I thought he handled himself really well.”

It probably helped that the game got off to a free-flowing start with a lot of goals, the first coming after a penalty was called on the opening draw.

With Tyler Bertuzzi in the box on a hooking infraction, Andrew Poturalski — playing his third career NHL game and first since April 6, 2017 — took a shot from the right circle that Nedeljkovic stopped, but the rebound bounced off Jesper Fast and was banged in by Nieddereiter to make it 1-0 lead at 2:05 of the game.

It was the first career point for Poturalski.

“We’ve known him for a long time, and he’s been doing all that he can do,” Brind’Amour said. “He’s been lighting up the minors for at least a year and a half. He got his chance tonight and obviously did a great job for us.”

After Sam Gagner tied the game at 5:32 by scoring just after a Detroit power play expired, Carolina struck again.

Kotkaniemi’s shot from the point was redirected high by Fast, and Nedeljkovic (29 saves) was unable to locate the puck. Tony DeAngelo swooped in from the right circle and lifted a shot over the Detroit goalie to give the Hurricanes back the lead at 7:36 of the first.

Both DeAngelo and Brett Pesce were playing their first games since Nov. 28 but didn’t miss a beat returning to the lineup from their time in COVID jail.

“Both those guys played extremely well,” Brind’Amour said. “It says a lot about those guys that they could step in, not playing in forever, and didn’t miss a beat.

DeAngelo played 19:24 and Pesce 23:25.

“I actually feel fine,” Pesce said. “Tony and I skated pretty hard for a week and a half there with (skills coach) Peter Harrold, so that definitely helped me out a lot tonight and I actually kind of felt better than I expected.”

The first period madness wasn’t over. Detroit tied it on a breakaway goal by Dylan Larkin, but Drury supplied the answer with his goal.

Bertuzzi knotted the game again at 11:19 of the second, scoring on Frederik Andersen (23 saves) with a wraparound that was reviewed after play continued following the scoring chance.

That set up a winner-take-all third period — and the stage for Niederreiter.

Martin Necas flipped a puck out of the Carolina end and Niederreiter got a step on rookie defenseman Moritz Seider. He fired a shot from outside the faceoff dot that beat Nedeljkovic to the short side, ringing the post and rattling in for his eighth goal of the season to give the Hurricanes the lead for good just 18 seconds into the final period.

“We knew we’ve got to win this period to win this game,” Niederreiter said. “And I think we came out with the same attitude right from the beginning of the game. … It was a great play by Nechy getting it out, and I had a chance to do the rest.”

While it will be at least three more games before any of the Hurricanes in the protocol are cleared to play, Carolina will at least be afforded two more emergency exception recalls so it can play with a full 20-man lineup starting with Saturday’s home game with the Kings.

On Thursday, it only took 18 to get two points.

“We knew we had to fight through some adversity,” Niederreiter said, “and that’s exactly what we did tonight.”

Notes: Sebastian Aho, Seth Jarvis, Jordan Staal, Andrei Svechnikov, Steven Lorentz and Ian Cole all remain in the league’s protocol, but the team was able to arrange getting the players back to Raleigh to quarantine — and for Christmas. Jarvis and Aho had been stuck in a Vancouver hotel with team massage therapist Mike Maresca, but the trio was able to take an ambulance to the border and, after some wrangling, cross into the U.S. Owner Tom Dundon’s private jet picked them up in Washington, made a stop in Minnesota to collect the other four players and returned to Raleigh. … Vincent Trocheck, who had an empty-net goal with five seconds remaining, played 23:29, his highest ice time since coming to Carolina and the most since he played 23:42 for the Panthers on Feb. 9, 2019. He played 23 or more minutes 44 times with Florida. … Stefan Noesen, the team’s other emergency exception recall on Thursday, played his first game with the Hurricanes and 206th of his career, logging 12:37. Poturalski played a team-low 7:50. … Andersen is now 10-0-1 in his career against Detroit.