Jeff Skinner had the hats flying Friday as the Carolina Hurricanes played their long-awaited home opener.
Skinner didn’t get a hat trick – Bryan Bickell later was credited with a goal instead of Skinner getting his third – and Canes fans didn’t get their hats back. Not that they left PNC Arena feeling empty-handed.
The Canes beat the New York Rangers 3-2 before a sellout crowd as Skinner officially was credited with two goals and an assist. He appeared to score a third goal on a power play with less than a second left in the second period, causing hats to fill the ice, but the puck glanced off Bickell’s chest in front of goalie Henrik Lundqvist for what would be the winner.
“Just trying to take away the goalie’s eyes,” Bickell said. “Skimmed my jersey. I’m sure if doesn’t hit my jersey it’s still going to go in. It’s just nice to get this win at home.”
Skinner later joked, “I guess (Bickell) owes everybody in the building their hats back. But we’ll take the celebration. It’s a big team win, especially in that fashion, to hold on to the lead and against a good team. It’s good confidence-builder for us.”
After opening the season with six straight road games, the Canes (2-3-2) finally were back on home ice. Veteran goalie Cam Ward was in net, calmly working the crease, making 28 saves, while such newcomers as Bickell, Lee Stempniak and Sebastian Aho played their first regular-season game at PNC Arena.
The Rangers have had their way with the Canes, winning 14 of 16 games before Friday. And there was a question if Skinner would be able to go in the home opener.
Skinner missed Tuesday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings with what Canes coach Bill Peters called a “simple little freaky injury.” Skinner was at Friday’s morning skate but Peters then said his availability would be a game-time decision.
No one was keeping Skinner out of the lineup this night. Designated an alternate captain for the Canes in home games this season, the winger was wearing an “A” on his sweater for the first time.
“It’s a home opener, he’s a proud kid, he’s a good hockey player,” Peters said. “First chance to wear the A. He was huge here tonight.”
Mats Zuccarello, who always seems to bedevil the Canes, had both goals for the Rangers (5-3-0) and his first, on a first-period power play, gave New York a 1-0 lead.
But then Skinner struck, beating Lundqvist with a shot from the right circle as defenseman Noah Hanifin and center Victor Rask picked up assists — Rask extending his points streak to seven games and finishing with two assists.
Skinner’s second goal, 33 seconds into the second period, came on well-executed stretch pass from Brett Pesce. Getting a step on defenseman Kevin Klein, Skinner whipped a wicked backhander past Lundqvist for a 2-1 lead.
“They play a fast-paced game (and) Skinner was a sharp shooter,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said.
The Rangers tied it 2-2 as Zuccarello shook free at the Carolina blue line for a breakaway at 12:17 of the second. But a tripping penalty against the Rangers’ Ryan McDonagh gave the Canes a late power play in the period. With the final seconds ticking away, Skinner unleashed a heavy shot that hit Bickell and beat the horn by five-tenths of a second.
Bickell, a healthy scratch Tuesday in Detroit, earned his first goal with the Hurricanes. He later had a chance to meet Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the locker room after the game, posing for a few photos with the NASCAR star, who sounded the warning siren before the game.
The Canes, who host the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday. stayed aggressive in the third, hunting a fourth goal while working hard in the defensive zone, keeping tight gaps and limiting the Rangers to seven shots in the period.
“We have so many new players and they were excited to go out on the ice at home,” Ward said. “Clearly the atmosphere was great. I’m just happy to reward the fans with a win.”