RALEIGH — It's hard to imagine the Carolina Hurricanes playing a much better game than they did Thursday.
Two days after having a game in Buffalo postponed by a blizzard, the Canes jumped on the Toronto Maple Leafs early in a 6-1 victory at PNC Arena, pushing their winning streak to five games.
The Canes, playing a second game without injured captain Eric Staal, got a big game from his brother. Jordan Staal had a goal and three assists, and it was the big center's shorthanded score early in the third that appeared to fully deflate the Leafs.
Rookie forward Elias Lindholm, who returned this week from the 2014 World Junior Championship in Sweden, had a goal and two assists. Add in Jeff Skinner's 21st goal of the season, a goal and assist from Zach Boychuk, and scores by Pat Dwyer and John-Michael Liles and the Canes put together their highest scoring game of the season.
"We were excited to get going and it looked like everyone was ready tonight," Jordan Staal said. "We want to ride this as long as we can and keep this momentum going."
Liles was a member of the Leafs until New Year's Day. That's when the trade was made that sent longtime Canes defenseman Tim Gleason to Toronto for Liles and a prospect.
Gleason, who played against the Leafs on Dec. 29, was in the starting lineup for the Leafs in a return to PNC Arena that he called slightly surreal. He received a nice ovation from Canes fans, but it was Liles who had the fans roaring in the second period when he smacked a shot off the rush past Leafs goalie James Reimer for a 4-1 lead.
Almost overlooked by game's end was another victory by goalie Anton Khudobin. He didn't get a lot of work, facing 26 shots, but was solid again and improved his record to 6-0-0, a franchise record to start a season.
"We just kept scoring and scoring," Khudobin said. "Sometimes, it's good to have a game like this. It's just nice. This game was by far the easiest game."
The Canes never trailed, leading 3-1 after the first period and 4-1 after two. Staal's shorthanded goal 25 seconds into the third gave the Canes a four-goal lead, and Lindholm capped it with a late 5-on-3 power-play score as Skinner, who has a career-best six-game point streak, picked up an assist.
"We were good from the start," Canes defenseman Justin Faulk said. "We had a good first period. It's definitely one of the best 60-minute efforts we've had all year."
Joffrey Lupul scored the only goal for the Leafs (21-19-5), who have dropped three in a row. Lupul also dropped the gloves and fought Faulk in the third period.
But that was about all the resistance the Leafs put up this night. The Canes outskated and outhustled Toronto, had the edge in shots and face-offs, and blocked 20 shots.
Because of the rare postponement in Buffalo, the Canes had some unexpected time off and made the most of it. They weren't lacking energy.
"I didn't know how it was going to turn out tonight but everyone had fresh legs and was contributing," Canes coach Kirk Muller said.
The Canes' fourth line struck first as Boychuk backhanded an early shot past Reimer, who was making his first start since Dec. 21. Skinner, who seemingly can't miss the net, knocked a rebound past Reimer for his 17th goal in the past 17 games, and Dwyer's score came about three minutes after Lupul's to give the Canes a 3-1 advantage.
Liles' goal, his first of the season, came off a well-executed pass from Boychuk. Staal then got the Canes' eighth "shortie" of the season, knocking the puck away from the Leafs' Dion Phaneuf on the Toronto power play and scoring his 10th of the season.
Carolina's five-game winning streak is its longest since the Canes won seven in a row in the 2009-2010 season. The Hurricanes complete a back-to-back on Friday with a road game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
"We've done a lot of things in these five games and can do some things better, as well," Staal said.
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