A rookie forward scored his 11th goal, a rookie goalie made his NHL debut and the penalty killing held strong.
Other than that, there wasn’t a lot for the Carolina Hurricanes to like about their game Tuesday against the Columbus Blue Jackets as their four-game winning streak came to an end and they missed on a chance to move into playoff position in the Eastern Conference.
The Blue Jackets boomed the cannon four times in the first 30 minutes at Nationwide Arena, ending the night early for Canes goalie Cam Ward as Columbus took a 4-1 home-ice victory.
Sebastian Aho did get his 11th goal of the season. And goalie Alex Nedeljkovic, recalled Monday from the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL, made an unexpected appearance in his first NHL game, stopping all 17 shots he faced.
But the Canes (21-16-7) were outworked in most areas other than penalty killing by the Blue Jackets (30-9-4), who were bent on ending a mini-skid that had caused them to slip behind the Washington Capitals in the Metropolitan Division.
“They won most of the individual battles,” Canes coach Bill Peters said. “A lot of the puck battles, their support was there quicker than we were. I just thought we lost a lot of battles in all three zones.”
The Blue Jackets played with even more intensity after Aho’s goal, off a Teuvo Teravainen pass, gave the Canes a 1-0 lead at 18:06 of the first. They responded so quickly, with two goals, that the second cannon blast almost seemed an echo of the first.
Boone Jenner scored 11 seconds after Aho. Brandon Dubinsky scored 35 seconds after Jenner. It was 2-1, Columbus.
“Actually we played OK in the first period,” Aho said. “But a couple of tough goals …”
Another goal by Dubinsky, who gave the puck a fling at the net from the deep right wing, and then Lukas Sedlak’s score at 9:16 of the second. Ward, making his 20th consecutive start, was then pulled for Nedeljkovic, a Parma, Ohio, native who likely expected to watch his first NHL game.
“To be honest, I was a little anxious,” Nedeljkovic said. “But when you’re backing up, you’re always ready to go, no matter if you’re here, American League, East Coast.”
Nedeljkovic, 21, a second-round draft pick by Carolina in 2014, now has been in all three leagues this season, spending time with the Florida Everblades of the ECHL. In his short stint, Nedeljkovic became the 12th goaltender in ECHL history to score a goal in a Dec. 30 game.
On Tuesday, he was in an NHL net and a bright spot for the Canes.
“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “It was pretty surreal. Unfortunately we couldn’t find our way back in the game.”
The Canes rallied to beat the Blue Jackets 5-3 at PNC Arena last week. For all the talk about the Canes’ home success (15-4-1), Columbus’ record is even better at Nationwide Arena (17-4-1) and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and forward Matt Calvert – both missed the game in Raleigh with illnesses – were in the lineup.
The Jordan Staal line, so dominant for the Canes in the past few games, had a rough game. Staal was minus-2 and lost eight of 10 faceoffs, and wingers Brock McGinn and Elias Lindholm both had minus-3 nights.
The Canes, now 6-12-6 on the road, did kill off all four penalties against the NHL’s best power-play team, just as Carolina did in Raleigh.
“That’s twice we’ve played these guys and given up four opportunities, and eventually that’s going to catch up with you,” Peters said. “Too many needless penalties. When you’re trying to come back, it just kills the clock and shortens the race track.”
After a home game Friday against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Canes will back on the Columbus “race track” Saturday to try again.