The Carolina Hurricanes have reached the point in the season where every game will be meaningful, every point precious.
To stay in the playoff chase, the Canes must find ways to win games when the Stanley Cup isn’t in the house, the crowds smaller and the atmosphere not as festive as it was this past weekend.
The Canes did that Tuesday against the Winnipeg Jets, using power-play goals from Jordan Staal and Riley Nash, steady goaltending from Eddie Lack and aggressive penalty killing to earn a 2-1 victory at PNC Arena.
After a weekend that had many of Carolina’s stars from the 2006 Stanley Cup champions return to Raleigh, this game was more of a grind. It was more about having the edge in specialty teams, for sure, but also doing the hard work in the defensive zone, especially in the third period when the Jets made a hard push.
“It was a little nervous there in the third, because they had a lot of momentum,” Nash said. “But all year we’ve been pretty good at keeping the lead and clamping down. I think it’s just being comfortable in those uncomfortable positions.”
The Canes’ power play has been inconsistent this season, and Carolina had not had two power-play scores in a game since Dec. 19 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. But Jordan Staal crashed the net to chop a backhander past goalie Ondrej Pavelec in the first period, and both Staal and Nash went to the front of the net in the second as Nash managed to poke the puck under a prone Pavelec for a 2-0 lead.
“We did a good job of coming out strong,” Jordan Staal said. “We defended well. … And the power play came up big with a couple of goals.”
The Canes, who lead the NHL in fewest penalty minutes per game (6.3) had three first-period penalties. Carolina’s penalty killers got the job done each time.
The Jets (25-28-3) scored almost seven minutes into the third as Blake Wheeler got a piece of a Jacob Trouba shot. About three minutes later, the Canes’ Phil Di Giuseppe was called for hooking, but Jets defenseman Tyler Myers picked up a roughing penalty 35 seconds later for a hit on Joakim Nordstrom.
That was the first of two undisciplined offensive-zone penalties against the Jets. Andrew Ladd, a member of the Canes’ 2006 champs, was called for cross-checking with a little more than six minutes left in regulation.
But the Jets continued to pressure. Limited to four shots in each of the first two periods, Winnipeg threw 13 at Lack in the third.
Lack relieved Cam Ward on Saturday when Ward was forced out of the New York Islanders game with a lower-body injury. Although saying he was slowed by an illness, Lack made his first start since Feb. 3 in Calgary and was sharp enough in earning his 10th win of the season.
“He got a little stronger as he went,” Canes coach Bill Peters said. “When you get an opportunity, you better capitalize on it, right? And he did. He played well.”
Ward is close to returning, Peters said Tuesday morning. So is defeneseman Justin Faulk, who missed his third straight game with a lower-body injury.
Nash, used at winger on the fourth line, assisted on Staal’s goal and now has four goals and two assists in his past six games. Staal has been even better – six goals, 13 assists in his past 17 games.
The Canes swept the two-game series against the Jets, coached by former Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice. In the Feb. 5 game in Winnipeg, the Canes scored four times in the first period and won 5-3.
“They play a very good game,” Maurice said. “Quick team, good sticks, own the puck and start and stop. They play a very full game.”