RALEIGH — With the trade deadline in the rearview mirror and Carolina’s newest addition watching from the press box, the Hurricanes gave the NHL a little peek ahead to the postseason.
From both an entertainment and result point of view, it was a satisfying look at the future.
The Hurricanes first and second power play units scored and Sebastian Aho’s third period insurance goal proved to be necessary as the Hurricanes ended a season-long four-game losing streak with a 3-2 win over two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay in front of 16,783 Tuesday at PNC Arena.
“There’s a good chance you could play against these guys in the playoffs, so it was a good game, good atmosphere as well,” said Hurricanes forward Martin Necas, who opened the scoring for Carolina on the power play in the second period. “We’ve still got around 20 games to go, so we’ll just try to get a little bit on a streak again and get ready for the playoffs.”
After 20 minutes of feeling each other out, the Lightning and Hurricanes got right back to the playoff intensity of last year’s second round series. That meant fast-based play, skilled defense and post-whistle scrums.
But there were two key differences between last year’s five-game series and Tuesday’s game. First of all, Carolina goalie Frederik Andersen rose to counterpart Andrei Vasilevskiy’s level to even the playing field in net.
“In our opinion, Freddie’s been the best goalie in the league this year,” defenseman Tony DeAngelo said of Andersen, who made 27 saves. “The guys in New York probably say the same about Igor (Shesterkin), the guys in Tampa say the same thing about Vasy. But there’s nobody we’d rather have in the net than Freddie. He’s been unbelievable,”
And the Hurricanes won the special teams battle.
Carolina got on the scoreboard first when its second unit converted the team’s first power play of the night.
With Tampa Bay down a man due to a too many men on the ice penalty, Necas snapped a shot from the right circle that beat Vasilevskiy for a 1-0 Carolina lead at 6:56 of the second period.
It was the first point in six games for Necas and his second power play goal of the season. It was also the third of his 11 career power play goals to have come on Vasilevskiy (38 saves).
“It would be nice if they would keep coming, especially against him,” Necas said.
While Max Domi, the forward acquired by Carolina from Columbus on Tuesday, looked on at his new team from the fifth floor, Tampa Bay’s deadline day acquisition played and scored in his Lightning debut.
Nick Paul, who was traded to the Lightning on Monday, carried the puck up ice and passed to Ross Colton, who threw the puck back toward a crashing Paul for a redirection and tie at 9:39 of the middle frame.
But Carolina’s power play wasn’t done.
After Carolina forward Nino Niederreiter drew a slashing penalty on Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos, the Hurricanes’ top unit converted when DeAngelo’s point shot got past a Vincent Trocheck screen and was redirected by Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev past Vasilevskiy for a 2-1 Carolina lead at 13:55 of the second.
The goal was DeAngelo’s 10th of the season, making him the 16th different defenseman in franchise history — and 10th since the move to North Carolina — to reach double-digit goals.
“Like I said a few days ago, it hasn’t been bad,” DeAngelo said of the power play. “We’ve been moving it around. A couple of those goals tonight, we’ve had a million of those chances the last 15, 16 power plays. They just haven’t went in.”
In all, Carolina outshot Tampa Bay 20-9 in the second period and carried play with 11 total high-danger scoring chances to the Lightning’s five.
The Hurricanes added a needed insurance goal in the third period.
After Seth Jarvis won a board battle to get the puck out of the Carolina zone, he rushed up the ice and beat Stamkos to a puck in the corner. He then avoided a hit from the Tampa captain and got to the front of the net. He deflected Jaccob Slavin’s point shot, and the puck went to Vasielevskiy’s left where Aho contorted himself enough to tuck the puck past the Lightning goalie’s outstretched pad for a 3-1 lead at 8:07 of the third.
The goal was Aho’s 28th of the season and Jarvis — who had also gotten a point on Necas’ goal — got an assist for the second two-assist game of his 49-game NHL career. After seemingly hitting a wall, the rookie now has four points in the last three games.
“He’s getting better and better, and you can see he’s out there more and more because he’s figuring these little things out,” coach Rod Brind’Amour said of Jarvis. “That’s the game. Just knowing how to play, knowing when you have opportunities to take those chances, when not to. That’s what a young guy’s gotta learn.”
After matching minors were called on Jordan Staal and Sergachev, the Lightning’s Alex Killorn scored with a minute left on a de facto power play after pulling Vasilevskiy.
The Lightning pulled Vasilevskiy again, but Nikita Kucherov was called for interference for a hit on Aho away from the puck.
That brought the ice to a rolling boil, with Kucherov in the penalty box exchanging words with Aho. Then after the horn blew, Kucherov confronted Aho, leading to both teams’ full benches spilling into the neutral zone for anything but an end-of-series handshake.
“No big deal,” DeAngelo said, “but it’s good that everybody came out there and stared at each for a little bit. All good.”
Brind’Amour called it “phony toughness” and shrugged off any message-sending the Lightning may have been trying to do.
“We’re about trying to win games, and that’s the message.”
Notes: All 18 Hurricanes skaters had at least one shot on goal, led by Teuvo Teravainen’s five, and Carolina outshot the Lightning 41-29. Carolina reached 40 shots for the 13th time this season. … Tampa’s Brayden Point won 11 of 12 faceoffs. … The Hurricanes have now won both games against the Lightning this season. The first was a 2-1 overtime win on Nov. 9 in Tampa Bay. The Lightning will host the season series finale next Tuesday.