The Carolina Hurricanes were down but not out. Behind but not finished.
Always believing there was a way to beat the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday, the Canes found it.
Jeff Skinner scored with 4:20 left in regulation, tying the score 1-1.
Noah Hanifin scored in overtime, giving the Canes a 2-1 victory.
Sebastian Aho chased Hanifin across the ice after the winner, a 19-year-old rookie forward in pursuit of a 20-year-old defenseman. The Canes are a youthful group, the youngest team in the NHL, but perhaps a team coming of age in the cauldron that is the chase for a final wild-card playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Boston Bruins hold that spot. The Canes want it. But so, too, the Tampa Bay Lightning, with the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers still hanging around.
The Canes are doing everything they can to make things interesting. They now have points in 13 straight games, going 9-0-4, breaking the franchise record set in 2005-2006.
Canes fans know how that season ended. The Stanley Cup banner hangs high above the PNC Arena ice.
With six games remaining in the regular season, there’s a lot of work to be done. The Canes may have to run the table and hope that the Bruins and others slip. But victories like the one Thursday reveal a lot about the measure of this team and the belief that has been built in the locker room.
“We absolutely have a shot here to do this,” Hanifin said. “We have a lot of confidence as a group right now.”
Hanifin’s overtime goal, at 2:16 of the extra period, was his first in the NHL and his fourth goal of the season. It came after Skinner drove the net for a shot, goalie Joonas Korpisalo poking the puck back into the slot where Hanifin never hesitated in unloading.
“It was a really good play by ‘Skinny’ and a big rebound there,” Hanifin said. “I was hoping for a rebound and it came right out to me in a good spot. I tried to rip it as hard as I can and it went in.
“It was pretty special but more important a huge win for our team. We stayed relentless and competed until the end of the game.”
The Blue Jackets are one of the NHL’s best teams, having a dream season. They came into Thursday’s game with 49 wins and 105 points, both franchise records, and while goalie Sergei Bobrovsky did not play, Korpisalo made a number of superb saves to give his team a chance to win.
But so did Cam Ward for the Canes. Columbus defenseman Jack Johnson beat Ward with a perfectly placed top-shelf shot in the second period, scoring off the rush, but Ward made all the other stops and was named the game's first star.
The Canes (35-27-14) pressured Korpisalo in the second and third periods, finally breaking through when Skinner zipped a shot toward the crease from the right side. The puck appeared to hit the skate of Columbus defenseman Seth Jones and the goal initially credited to Victor Rask, who was in front of Korpisalo.
But it was Skinner’s goal, his 32nd of the season. It also came after the winger hobbled off the ice late in the first period after being hit on the left leg on a shot by the Canes’ Derek Ryan.
“We got a bit of a fortunate bounce on that goal,” said Skinner, who returned in the second period. “Sometimes, you’re going to get a bounce when you’re working hard.”
The Canes, 10-2-5 in March, close out a four-game homestand Saturday against the Dallas Stars. It will be another game with a must-win feel to it but that’s fine with the Canes.
“It’s a lot of fun coming to the rink when you’ve got things on the line,” Skinner said. “Hopefully we can keep this thing rolling and keep it that way.”