Before the game, before they fell behind, before the comeback, the Carolina Hurricanes were already talking about how they owed the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Not only for the shutout loss on the road two weeks ago, but for the game in Raleigh just before Christmas when the Hurricanes gave up the game-tying and game-winning goals in the final five minutes.
So turning the tables on the Blue Jackets Monday offered sweet revenge for the Hurricanes, who scored three goals on four shots by two Staals in 167 seconds of the third period to turn what would have been a back-breaking loss into a heart-stopping 3-2 win. Yet that was the least of it.
In the bigger picture, the Hurricanes made a statement to the Blue Jackets, who through two games and two periods this season had the Hurricanes’ number. Not only did they leapfrog the Blue Jackets in the standings and into a playoff spot, albeit with a mere 2 1/2 months left in the season, they beat Columbus for the first time in more than eight years, ending a seven-game losing streak against the Blue Jackets.
Since these new divisional rivals are likely to remain inseparable in the standings when they meet again March 18 and March 29, with the head-to-head series a potential proxy battle for a wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, Carolina changed the tone Monday with the two goals from Eric Staal and game-winner from Jordan Staal.
“Obviously the game before Christmas, we gave that one to them,” Jordan Staal said. “Tonight was kind of right back at them.”
It didn’t start that way. Two goals a scant 17 seconds apart only three minutes into the game – one after a funny bounce off the post, the other after a Justin Faulk giveaway – looked like they would be enough for the Blue Jackets, who had more or less stymied the Carolina offense this season and appeared to be on their way to a third win over the Hurricanes.
Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky was a big reason for that. He didn’t play in that 4-3 Columbus win Dec. 23, but he stopped the first 64 Carolina shots he has faced this season. The Hurricanes were outshot 7-0 early and found themselves down 2-0. They outshot Columbus 24-8 through the rest of the first and second periods. ... And still found themselves down 2-0.
“These are the teams that we have to learn to beat, the teams that are big and strong on the boards and grind you down,” Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said. “We went five periods without scoring a goal against them, but the guys stayed with it and found a way.”
Eric Staal’s first goal came on Carolina’s 29th shot, flipping the puck past Bobrovsky in tight quarters. Jiri Tlusty found Staal alone in front of the net one minute later to tie the score. And Jordan Staal cut through traffic in the middle of the ice to beat Bobrovsky with a backhand on the rush. From no goals on 28 shots to three goals on four shots, from shutout loss to dogged win – turnabout being fair play and all.
“They rope-a-doped us once, so we got them back,” Eric Staal said. “It was one of those things where you don’t want to spot them two, especially a team that plays that well defensively, but we owed them one since they did the same to us.”
They ran into a goalie and a team that they couldn’t figure out, and then fought their way past – which is important, because this is exactly the kind of team they’re going to have to fight past to make the playoffs.