The smiles were back in the Carolina Hurricanes locker room Saturday.
The power play was back.
The Storm Surge was back.
The Canes were back to winning, beating the Philadelphia Flyers 5-2 at PNC Arena to move closer to their season-long goal: securing a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2009.
“We played well enough to win,” Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “That’s the one thing I can say, they come to play and give you what they can. The effort is what I haven’t had to worry about too much and it was the same thing.”
It wasn’t a 5-2 kind of game. It took power-play goals by Teuvo Teravainen and Justin Faulk. It took an even-strength goal from Dougie Hamilton, who is playing his best hockey of the season, and finally empty-net scores by Jaccob Slavin and Brock McGinn that made for a three-goal margin.
It took Petr Mrazek being tough in net, fiery as usual and highly competitive but also calm and quick when he needed to be. Mrazek made some big saves, timely saves, early and late, especially with the Canes holding a 3-2 lead in the third period and the Flyers on a power play after a tripping call on Justin Williams with 3:30 left in regulation.
The Flyers (37-33-8), needing a win to remain in playoff contention, pulled goalie Cam Talbot for a sixth attacker and it was a war in front of the net. Slavin finally gave the puck a fling down the ice and into the net for a 4-2 lead, easing the tension level in the building before McGinn added another.
And then the Surge. Williams tweeted this week that the popular post-game celebrations at PNC Arena were being discontinued, then hinted a day later it might return. And it did. The players lined up, skated to the south end of the rink and jumped into the glass, a repeat of the first Surge back in October.
“The guys wanted to do one last one,” Williams said. “We did one off the cuff, just for fun.”
With 93 points, the Canes (43-28-7) kept their grip on the first wild-card playoff position in the Eastern Conference. They’ll complete their last back-to-back set of the season Sunday in Pittsburgh against the Penguins, who have 95 points.
The Columbus Blue Jackets, winning a road game Saturday night against the Nashville Predators, held the second wild card with 92 points and had a game in hand on the Montreal Canadiens. The Canadiens, who also have 92 points, kept pace Saturday with a road victory over the Winnipeg Jets.
“You want to play in these games and in the playoffs and it’s a lot more fun now to be doing that,” Hamilton said.
Losing twice to the Washington Capitals this past week stung, and Brind’Amour said his team was devastated after the 3-2 loss Thursday at PNC Arena. But Saturday was a new day.
The Canes had gone nine games without a power-play goal, showing the strain. Brind’Amour said before Saturday’s game that it wasn’t as easy as just putting shots on net and outnumbering the other team, mentioning zone entries and faceoff execution.
And the Canes then scored on the power play in the first by outnumbering the Flyers in front of the net, Teravainen joining Williams and Nino Niederreiter in front of the crease and banging a shot past Talbot.
Hamilton, named the game’s first star, then scored 21 seconds later for a 2-1 lead, offsetting a goal by Flyers captain Claude Giroux. Hamilton fired off a lefthanded uppercut after his 16th of the year.
“A big swing in the game,” Hamilton said of the sudden strikes. “It’s nice to play with the lead.”
Faulk, who had not scored in his last 13 games, rifled a shot from the point in the third for a 3-1 lead. But Oskar Lindblom’s power-play goal made it a 3-2 game. It was a fight.
“The guys gave it everything they had,” Brind’Amour said. “We deserved that one.”