The Carolina Hurricanes were a team on the move and in a hurry Friday night.
Having beaten the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 at PNC Arena, the Canes quickly packed up their gear, quickly got in their postgame workouts. There was a plane to catch, in the Canes’ minds another game to win, not just play – Saturday against the St. Louis Blues.
For much of the season the Hurricanes have been a team taking one step forward, then one step back. For a team that believes it can be a part of the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2009, the Canes were having a tough time gaining any real traction.
But Carolina now has four straight victories for the first time this season. They’ve won seven of the past eight and six straight at home – before a crowd of 17,975 on Friday – after beating a team that has won back-to-back Stanley Cups.
As center Derek Ryan said, “It’s been a lot of little things adding up to the victories in the end, executing on the game plan, specialty teams being better. Our power play hasn’t scored a ton but has been generating chances. Our penalty kill has been phenomenal. I think five-on-five we’ve dominated a lot of teams and really good teams.
“I can’t put one thing on it. But the recipe’s working.”
Goalie Cam Ward has been a key ingredient in that recipe. His personal streak is now 9-0-1 as the veteran has staked his claim to the net, although Scott Darling will start against the Blues in the back-to-back set.
“That’s been kind of a little bit of a question mark before and now that’s gotten a lot better,” Ryan said of the goaltending.
The Canes (18-12-7) won Friday after giving up the first goal, the Pens’ Brian Dumoulin scoring in the first period off the rush. Pittsburgh had won seven straight over Carolina and while missing five injured regulars, including goalie Matt Murray, still has a chunk of it championship core.
Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel … they were in the lineup and have owned the Canes the past few years.
But Ryan, on his 31st birthday, scored a second-period goal to tie the score. Sebastian Aho, for the second straight game, had the winning goal.
Aho’s score came when Pens goalie Tristan Jarry attempted to poke the puck away from the crease, only to have Aho waiting. “Right place, right time, I guess,” Aho said.
Aho scored 21 seconds after a Jaccob Slavin goal was disallowed. Following a review, Ryan was ruled to have interfered with Jarry while jostling with Pens defenseman Frank Corrado to Jarry’s right.
It was the kind of call that can unnerve a team but didn’t distract the Canes.
“There was contact, but it was outside the crease,” Ryan said. “I don’t know if that matters or not, whether (Jarry) initiates it or not. It’s a fine line.”
As is winning and losing in the NHL.
The Canes have scored four power-play goals in the four-game win streak while killing off 10 straight penalties. Against the Pens, they limited Crosby to one shot and Malkin to two as the defensive pairing of Slavin and Brett Pesce may have had their best game of the season.
“They’re a speed team,” Pens coach Mike Sullivan said. “They’re a young team that can really skate. They played a pretty simple game. They played north-south, straight-ahead.”
The upbeat vibe in the Canes’ locker room after the game Friday was palpable. The updated standings posted in the room showed the Canes one point out of playoff position in the Eastern Conference.
“I think we have a good confidence right now and we just have to keep it going,” Aho said. “I think we’re doing all the little things and are comfortable as a team.”