The Carolina Hurricanes can’t fully explain their torrid run on home ice at PNC Arena.
It’s not that the place is filled every game, although a lively crowd of 16,640 came out Saturday to see the Canes face the New York Islanders.
Having the last change is a tactical advantage in terms of getting more favorable matchups, and the Canes have come up big in second periods, when opposing teams must negotiate the long change in getting players on the ice from their bench.
But Carolina is 14-1-1 in its past 16 games at PNC Arena after a 7-4 win over the Islanders, sweeping the four-game homestead to pull within one point of the Philadelphia Flyers in the chase for the final wild-card playoff spot in the NHL’s Eastern Conference.
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Why so good at home?
“Everybody is having fun right now,” Canes forward Brock McGinn said. “We’re in the hunt for the playoffs and these are big games, big points every time you step on the ice. The home fans can definitely motivate you that much more.”
McGinn has the look of a motivated player having a lot of fun. The winger had two goals Friday as the Canes beat the Buffalo Sabres 5-2, then a goal and three assists Saturday as the Canes used their speed, cranked up their transition game and started peppering goalie Thomas Greiss with shots — 45 in all.
McGinn, who started the season with the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL, was named first star of the game and collected the team awards.
In a seven-goal game, Jeff Skinner didn’t have a point, which was unusual. But eight players did have points and Jordan Staal’s line led the way.
Staal and winger Elias Lindholm, resurgent offensively after coming back from an upper-body injury, each had a goal and two assists. Add in McGinn’s four points and that’s a huge night.
“It’s going in for ‘Ginner’ now and he’s got some confidence,” Staal said. “Lindy is playing really well, really strong. He’s holding on to pucks so well and bringing guys to him and then dishing and making plays and doing all those things we know he can do.”
Lee Stempniak had a goal and two assists, and Teuvo Teravainen and Justin Faulk each had a goal and assist. Brett Pesce scored his second of the season as the Canes (21-15-7) picked up two goals and two assists from their defensemen, an element of the offense that has been missing.
Stempniak gave the Canes a 5-4 lead at 5:42 of the third – the eventual game-winner – on a quick shot after Teravainen won an offensive-zone draw, and Stempniak then assisted on Teravainen’s goal.
Staal scored his ninth at 13:53 as all seven of the Canes’ goals came at even strength – there were no penalties in the game.
“What this team wants to focus on is quick transition and creating turnovers and going the other way,” Staal said. “We did a good job of that tonight.”
Things were loose defensively at times for both teams, making it difficult for Canes goalie Cam Ward and Greiss. Ward, who made his 19th straight start, had 28 saves, and Canes coach Bill Peters turned to Faulk and Ron Hainsey as his top pairing during the game.
The Isles’ John Tavares, who had a hat trick Friday in a 5-2 road win over Florida, scored twice Saturday. New York, playing without defenseman Johnny Boychuk, also got goals from Anders Lee and Jason Chimera.
When Chimera scored 1:52 into the second period, the Isles led 3-1. But the Carolina run was about to begin.
“When you play against a fast team that’s got a lot of pace, it puts pressure on you to make plays,” Isles coach Jack Capuano said. “It’s tough.”
Faulk scored on a shot from the left dot, and Lindholm off the rush as Staal took a hit along the boards to make a pass to McGinn, who saucered a pass between two Islanders to Lindholm. Another well-placed pass by McGinn, a former second-round draft pick by the Canes, led to Pesce’s goal and a 4-3 lead.
“We changed our mindset,” McGinn said. “We know we have the skill to come back. Everyone is playing well, and it’s contagious.”
The Canes are 14-4-1 overall at home this season but 6-11-6 on the road. They’ll play three of the next four away from home starting with Tuesday’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“We definitely have a good home record right now, and we want to continue that on the road and not change our game,” McGinn said. “Just play the same way.”