Luke DeCock

Successful homestand puts Canes in playoff hunt – DeCock

Canes fans cheer for the team in the closing moments Canes 3-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets at PNC Arena in Raleigh.
Canes fans cheer for the team in the closing moments Canes 3-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets at PNC Arena in Raleigh. cseward@newsobserver.com

It’s been a good week for the Carolina Hurricanes, and not just because they won four straight games, as welcome a turn of events as that was. They somehow managed, in the space of nine days, to exorcise almost all of the demons they spent the first month of the season creating.

They pounded five goals past the Washington Capitals, ground out a 1-0 win over the San Jose Sharks and let the Montreal Canadiens cut a late two-goal lead in half, but held firm. That gave them three sorely needed wins over three of the best teams in the NHL to help atone for the loss to the Anaheim Ducks that started the five-game homestand.

And finally, on Sunday, they held a late lead against the Winnipeg Jets, the team that sent their season spiraling in the wrong direction on the very first evening when they came back from three goals down to beat the Hurricanes in overtime, matching the feisty Jets hit for hit without wilting during a rough-and-tumble second period.

Even Elias Lindholm finally scored, a mere 17 games into the season, and it was a pretty goal, too, walking out of the corner to beat Connor Hellebuyck over the right shoulder, the first goal in a resounding 3-1 win.

Carolina Hurricanes forward Elias Lindholm jokingly says he thinks he "blacked out" after scoring his first goal of season Sunday in the Canes' 3-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets.

“We talked about it coming into this homestand,” Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner said. “Obviously we didn’t get off to the start we wanted to, but we had a big chance with this extended homestand to pick up some points and establish the brand of hockey we want to play at home for the rest of the season. We did a good job of that.”

So much of what went wrong for the Hurricanes to start the season went right for them on this homestand, starting with the goaltending – Cam Ward had a 1.41 goals-against average and .947 save percentage in the five games – and extending to a defense that has gone from disorganized to stable with the addition of AHL call-up Matt Tennyson, who arrived in an effective three-player package with Derek Ryan and Brock McGinn that kicked off the winning streak.

Tennyson has combined with Noah Hanifin to give the Hurricanes the more reliable third pairing they sorely lacked in October when the Hurricanes ran through Klas Dahlbeck, (the departed) Jakub Nakladal and Ryan Murphy without success. Ryan and McGinn have helped as well, and McGinn’s hit on Tobias Enstrom rattled the Jets and began a parade to the penalty box that led to two Carolina power-play goals.

The Carolina Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters talks about the team's 3-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets at PNC Arena in Raleigh Sunday

The Hurricanes have unquestionably benefited from the schedule, resting at home while their recent opponents have dealt with travel and back-to-backs – the Jets played Saturday in Boston – and teeing off on a series of backup goalies while the Hurricanes have been able to let a confident, capable Ward handle a moderate workload without being forced to roll the dice with Eddie Lack.

The first order of business in the NHL is winning the games you’re supposed to win, when the schedule permits, and the Hurricanes have done that this week. That has gotten them off the bottom of the standings and closer to the postseason conversation, even if they’re not quite there yet, but they’re among the dozen or so in the chasing pack now.

“One of those teams is going to make the playoffs,” Hurricanes coach Bill Peters said. “Why not us?”

Now it gets tougher, with a three-game trip through eastern Canada – brace yourself for more Quebec rumors ahead of Thursday’s game in Montreal – followed by a stretch of six games in nine nights to kick off a very busy December that includes a California jaunt.

They exited to a standing ovation from the 10,809 in attendance that started with five seconds to play and escorted the Hurricanes off the ice and onto the road after the best run of home games in a long, long time.

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