For the Carolina Hurricanes, the NHL playoff line has been a hurdle they could not clear.
The Canes topped the Dallas Stars 3-0 at PNC Arena as Petr Mrazek was unshakeable in net and Justin Williams, Brock McGinn and Micheal Ferland provided the goals.
Mrazek had 33 saves in his third shutout of the season and second in his last three starts. He also had Canes fans loudly chanting, “Pe-tr, Pe-tr” after the game.
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Williams and McGinn scored in the first period to stake the Canes (31-22-6) to a 2-0 lead and Ferland, playing his 300th career game, sealed it with a third-period power-play goal off an Andrei Svechnikov pass.
After the Pittsburgh Penguins were beaten 5-4 Saturday afternoon by the Calgary Flames, the door was open for the Canes. Beat the Stars and the Canes would move past the Pens and into the second wild-card position in the Eastern Conference.
“I think everybody’s got their eye on that. We want to be in the playoffs,” McGinn said. “I think every game and every period is so crucial to us right now and I think we’re doing a good job of showing that.”
Mrazek did more than his part on a night when the Canes were sluggish, a bit heavy legged. A night after a 3-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers, when goalie Curtis McElhinney was the first star with 40 saves, Mrazek stepped in and had some brilliant stops, moving quickly, anticipating well in earning his 17th career shutout.
The Canes celebrated after the game by doing their version of the limbo -- the players lining up single-file and slipping under a hockey stick at center ice held by Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin. Try that with goalie pads on.
“I never did that before, to be honest,” Mrazek said, smiling. “But it wasn’t that bad. The stick was pretty high.”
Mrazek was unusually fiery during the game, once thrusting out his stick after denying Andrew Cogliano in the second. The Canes were active in front of him, getting in shooting lanes and blocking shots -- defenseman Justin Faulk had six of the Canes’ 25 blocks.
In one sequence in the second, Mrazek was down in the crease and Cogliano looking at a lot of open net. But defenseman Calvin de Haan jumped in on top on Mrazek, causing Cogliano to hesitate and then miss the net.
“It’s fun when we can compete like that, when we can battle,” Mrazek said. “I was really fired up in the first period.”
Mrazek was visibly angry in the first after he lost his stick in front of the crease, only to have the Stars’ Tyler Seguin skate by and swat it away. Pesce then was called for a holding penalty, leaving everyone in red -- and Brind’Amour -- seeing red.
But the Canes killed off the penalty, Mrazek with a good stop on a Alexander Radulov scoring chance. Mrazek said the referee later apologized to him, saying he did not see Seguin knock away his paddle. “Just part of the game,” Mrazek said.
The Canes have been playing the game, all of it, very well since New Year’s Eve. With a 16-5-1 record in their last 22 games, they have clawed their way up the standings and now into a playoff position with 23 games left.
“At what point does it matter?” Brind’Amour said. “It matters by the end of the year. That’s when it matters. We’ve got a long way to go and we’re not going to be satisfied because we’re in now.”