Carolina Hurricanes coach Bill Peters wanted his team to be fast and aggressive Tuesday against the Chicago Blackhawks.
It was the final game before the NHL All-Star Game break. “Empty the tank,” Peters told his players.
The Canes were listening. Playing perhaps their best game of the season, the Canes treated the defending Stanley Cup champions rudely at PNC Arena, winning 5-0 for a sweep of the two-game season series as goalie Eddie Lack had a 26-save shutout.
Riley Nash, who has had an inconsistent season, was the game’s first star: The fourth-line winger scored twice. Jeff Skinner, John-Michael Liles and Joakim Nordstrom also had goals as the Canes – 7-2-1 in their past 10 games – beat the Blackhawks to pucks, played a solid possession game and handed Chicago its worst loss of the season.
“When we do it right and get contributions throughout the lineup, we’re a good team,” Peters said. “We’ve been a good team now for a while, and what we like is it’s going in the right direction.”
The Hurricanes (23-20-8), who topped the Calgary Flames 5-2 on Sunday, are one point out of playoff position in the Eastern Conference with 54 points, trailing Tampa Bay (56 points) and Pittsburgh (55) for one of the two wild-card spots. But there’s a lot of hockey to be played, and there will be juggling of positions, with ground easily lost with anything resembling a losing streak.
You can just see our confidence over the last 30, 40 games growing and growing. The way our group has grown, it’s been pretty fun to be a part of.
Riley Nash, Hurricanes forward
“You can just see our confidence over the last 30, 40 games growing and growing,” Nash said. “The way our group has grown, it’s been pretty fun to be a part of.”
Skinner scored his 18th of the season a little more than 2 minutes into the game. Nash picked up his first goal with a deflection of a Jaccob Slavin shot, and Liles scored off the rush on a well-executed pass from Kris Versteeg, who helped the Blackhawks win Cups in 2010 and 2015.
“It was pretty evident from the beginning we were in a lot of trouble,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said.
It was pretty evident from the beginning we were in a lot of trouble.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville
The Canes led 3-0 after the first, ending the night for Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford, who had won 10 of his last 11. Scott Darling relieved Crawford, allowing Nordstrom’s second-period goal and then Nash’s second score, off a sharp pass behind the net from Skinner.
Nash had other opportunities at his first career hat trick. “Guys were trying to get him the third one,” Peters said. “Guys were wanting it on the bench.”
Nordstrom was a part of the September trade with Chicago that brought Vertseeg and Nordstrom to the Canes. He’ll go into the break with goals in his past three games.
Lack was denied a shutout Dec. 27 when the Canes edged the Blackhawks 2-1 in Chicago as Brent Seabrook scored with three seconds left. The Blackhawks had 11 third-period shots Tuesday, but Lack, making his fifth straight start, turned them away for his second shutout this season and eighth of his career.
“I was thinking to myself to battle the whole way today,” Lack said. “The team played extremely well in front of me, and we didn’t give them many Grade A chances. Just a really good win for our team.”
The Canes will next play Feb. 3 against the Calgary Flames in the first of three road games. Defenseman Justin Faulk will represent the team in the All-Star festivities in Nashville, Tenn., but the others can rest and relax.
“We have that taste in our mouth where we’ll want to get back, get the ball rolling and see what we can do in the last 31 games,” Nash said.