They cheered, loudly, for Jeff Skinner.
They cheered even louder for Bryan Bickell.
In the Carolina Hurricanes’ final home game of the season, Skinner scored twice, and Bickell took a final bow Saturday as Canes fans roared at PNC Arena. Bickell, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November, said he will retire after the season.
The Canes didn’t win it. The St. Louis Blues won 5-4 in a shootout, getting the deciding goal from Vladimir Tarasenko as they locked down third place in the NHL’s Central Division.
The Canes (35-31-15) had lost four straight and been shut out in each of their past two home games, against the Dallas Stars and New York Islanders. Skinner, continuing to sizzle late in the season, pushed his career high to 37 goals, and Klas Dahlbeck and Joakim Nordstrom also scored in the fast-paced, entertaining game.
Skinner’s second, at 9:14 of the third, tied the score 4-4 and was Skinner at his elusive best. The winger made a quick fake behind the St. Louis net, then wheeled back around to beat Blues goalie Carter Hutton at the post.
Quick hands, quick strike. It was Skinner’s 17th goal in the past 18 games.
Skinner had the home fans on their feet, although the biggest ovation of the night was saved for Bickell. Despite the MS diagnosis, the veteran forward never gave up on his goal of making it back to the NHL this season and will be in the lineup Sunday for one last game as the Canes close the season at Philadelphia.
Bickell, at the urging of his teammates, left the bench for a short skate-around during a stop in play, smiling and waving to the crowd as it chanted his name. Many of the Blues players tapped their sticks in salute.
“It gives you goosebumps,” Skinner said.
The Blues (45-29-7) took a 4-3 lead early in the third on Scottie Upshall’s shorthanded score. Canes goalie Cam Ward then stopped a shorthanded breakaway by David Perron moments later to keep it 4-3.
Dahlbeck scored in the first period and Nordstrom in the second for the Canes, who entered the season believing a playoff berth was possible for the first time since 2009 but again will miss the postseason. Carolina was 23-12-6 at home but has struggled on the road.
“It was a very competitive game, high level, with some real nice plays being made on both ends,” Canes coach Bill Peters said.
Skinner’s first goal, with 29 seconds left in the first, pushed the Canes ahead 2-1 as Skinner ripped in the rebound of a Brett Pesce shot.
Pesce had a chance to end it in overtime, his attempt hitting the metal. The Canes had a power play in the OT, then had to kill off a late penalty.
Lee Stempniak scored for Carolina to lead off the shootout, but Skinner, Jaccob Slavin and Sebastian Aho were denied. Patrik Berglund scored for the Blues in the shootout before Tarasenko, who had two assists in the game, ended it in the fourth round.
Peters second-guessed himself later, saying he should have given Bickell a chance. The Canes had “29” – Bickell’s number – on the back of their helmets Saturday, and Peters said he should have called his number in the shootout.
Bickell, 31, said he made the decision to retire three or four days ago, after talking it over with his family.
“The biggest thing is my health, and I don’t want to take risks,” Bickell said after the game. “Obviously I’ve played hockey for my life, and it’s obviosuly tough to leave. But I have a life after hockey, and I want to be healthy. To watch my kids grow will be important.”