RALEIGH — The Hurricanes had lost three straight games and could likely feel the New Jersey Devils breathing down their necks. That made Tuesday’s visit from the Red Wings, the penultimate game of the regular season and the home finale, a must-win for Carolina.
The Hurricanes took care of business.
Carolina got goals from Stefan Noesen, Jordan Martinook, Brent Burns and Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and Antti Raanta made 20 saves to lead the Hurricanes to a 4-1 win in front of a sellout crowd at PNC Arena.
The win clinched home ice for the Hurricanes in the first of the playoffs, but with the Devils winning 6-2 at home over the Sabres, Carolina will enter Thursday’s final regular season at Florida with a one-point lead in the Metropolitan Division over New Jersey. The Devils play at Washington on the same night.
“It’s gonna be nice to start at home and get the crowd support and get us going,” Raanta said of earning home ice.
The Hurricanes got off to the start they needed with two goals in the first eight minutes.
The tone was set on the third shift of the game when Carolina held the puck in the Detroit end for 91 seconds before Noesen stuffed a rebound past Alex Nedeljkovic (24 saves) to give the Hurricanes a 1-0 lead just 2:46 into the game.
“That kind of set the tone there for the first period,” Martinook said. “So kudos to those guys. That was a big shift for us and then just got us going.”
Carolina doubled the lead shortly after when defenseman Brady Skjei faked a wrist shot and instead zipped a pass to the back door where Martinook banged in his 13th goal of the year at 7:50 of the first to make it 2-0.
“I’d just seen there was five guys in front, so I wasn’t gonna go in the muck,” Martinook said. “Usually he’s going high glove there, but he found me on the back side.”
That was all the goals Carolina needed to snap its three-game losing streak.
“The first period, that’s where we won the game,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “We came ready to play and got the lead.”
Now Carolina has one bit of business remaining, and Thursday’s opponent could be the team the Hurricanes host in the first round.
The Panthers clinched a playoff berth after the Penguins lost at home Tuesday to the Blackhawks. With 92 points, Florida is one point ahead of the Islanders (who play Montreal at home on Wednesday) for the first wild card spot. Carolina would win the Metropolitan Division and play the first wild card if they stay at least a point ahead of the Devils following Thursday’s games.
If the Devils overcome Carolina, the Hurricanes would face the third-place Rangers in the first round. If the Hurricanes win the division, they will face either the Panthers or Islanders in the first round. The Penguins can still make the playoffs with a win Thursday in Columbus if the Islanders lose in regulation to the Canadiens.
That makes Thursday’s game against the Panthers important for all involved, especially if either team wants to send a message against a potential first round foe.
“Who knows?” Brind’Amour said of the potential of a Game 82 against the Panthers being a preview for the first round. “I guess you have to wait and see. I don’t really think the last game the season’s gonna boil over, but you never know.”
Raanta, meanwhile, continued to make his case to be the starter in net for Carolina when that opening series begins.
The only goal he allowed came in the second period when Robert Hagg scored short side after a defensive breakdown. But the Hurricanes reestablished their two-goal lead just over four minutes later when Burns’ point shot hit Red Wings forward Joe Valeno in front of the net and bounced in. Jesperi Kotkaniemi scored his 17th goal into an empty net to seal the win.
“We came out and we were ready to play,” Raanta said. “So good team effort today, for sure.”
Notes: Skjei’s first period assist was the 200th point of his NHL career. … The Hurricanes announced during the game that they have signed undrafted Quinnipiac goalie Yaniv Perets to a two-year entry-level contract. Perets was 34-4-3 with a 1.49 goals-against average, .931 save percentage and 10 shutouts this past season and helped lead the Bobcats to a national championship. Teammate Skyler Brind’Amour is the son of Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour. … Kotkaniemi had two points and has six points (three goals, three assists) in his last six games.