RALEIGH — Love was in the air on Friday night inside the walls of PNC Arena.
Large men standing on knives were hitting each other, vulcanized rubber discs were being smacked around with sticks, and the Devil(s) was present.
It was a lovely night for hockey in Raleigh, and the Carolina Hurricanes put together a wholehearted effort en route to a 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils in what was every bit of a must-win game.
After an early barrage of shots against that were all handled by Petr Mrazek, the Hurricanes needed one rush up the ice to break the ice.
Haydn Fleury took a big hit to make a play in the Canes zone, and that rush up ice led to a good offensive zone possession. Trevor van Riemsdyk pinched wisely down the right wing to keep possession and continue the cycle, fed Martin Necas behind the net, and then Fleury re-entered the play as he took Necas’ pass and set up Nino Niederreiter for a long-range dart that beat Louis Domingue.
The Hurricanes couldn’t really gain the momentum after their first goal, though. An early theme was that Carolina couldn’t muster consistent possession, and the Devils were able to take advantage of that at the 7:07 mark of the first period.
After a quick chance from Jordan Staal off of a Devils turnover in the slot, New Jersey quickly pushed the puck up ice as Carolina’s forwards were still deep in the zone. The quick 3-on-2 transition ended with defenseman Mirco Mueller tapping the puck into a wide-open cage after Mrazek tried to play the shot instead of the pass. Seemingly some miscommunication on the play from the Canes, and the game was tied.
The minutes following that goal were quiet. Not much zone time and not much in the way of offensive opportunities. Then, with 8:37 left in the opening frame, an offensive zone face off win led to an early tie-breaking goal.
Jordan Staal cleanly won a draw back to Brett Pesce, who walked in and threw a wrist shot towards the net. Warren Foegele batted the puck down, gained control, and slid it by the right pad of Domingue to the far-side post. Foegele’s eleventh of the season let the Canes regain the lead.
The Hurricanes started to dominate the second half of the period, led by Sebastian Aho’s top trio, which nearly found twine on several occasions early on, and the newly formed Erik Haula line.
Pesce rang the crossbar with less than a minute left in the first period, but the Devils caught a break as the puck bounced down and out. The score was 2-1 through twenty minutes.
The Hurricanes came out of the locker room flying in the second period. Teuvo Teravainen led a rush up on ice in the first minute, and Andrei Svechnikov had an excellent chance on Domingue, but he was robbed in grand fashion.
Revenge is sweet, though.
Almost 14 minutes into the second period, the first line made a marvelous play and extended the Carolina lead to two goals.
Svechnikov to Aho to Teravainen to Svechnikov in rapid succession led to an absolute beauty of a goal at a big time for the Hurricanes.
The Hurricanes controlled play in the second period and gave up virtually no threatening scoring chances, except for one rush for the Devils that saw a 2-on-1 very nearly cash in, but Fleury made another great play and saved a possible goal.
The second period ended with the Canes holding onto a 3-1 lead over the Devils with an opportunity to put their foot down in the third period and close out a much-needed win.
The foot went down.
Carolina continued to push their game forward, and New Jersey couldn’t do anything about it. Everything looked exactly the way it needs to look moving forward. There was buy-in, there was desperation, there was execution, and the Canes closed out one of their most complete games in a month.
Haula’s line, featuring Niederreiter and Necas on the wings, continued to play exceptionally well in the third period, and they were on the ice for another goal.
A long-range point shot got deflected in the high slot by Necas, and the puck got deflected in by a Devils defenseman in front who was battling with Niederreiter for position. The weird tally marked the 15th goal of Necas’ rookie season and it gave the Canes a three-goal lead.
The Hurricanes put on a masterclass in defending a lead over the next ten minutes of in-game time. They kept the high-danger areas of their own zone clean and did a good job of getting pucks deep in the New Jersey zone.
Joel Edmundson took a seat just under 13 minutes into the third after slashing Miles Wood, and the Canes were in need of a strong kill.
The kill was strong, but the seconds immediately following the kill were even stronger. Niederreiter collected the puck just inside the Carolina blue line right as Edmundson left the penalty box. With great poise, Nino waited and fired a perfect spring pass to Edmundson, who was unmarked and cashed in a breakaway goal that was chocked full of 2012 Bryan Allen vibes.
That pretty much ended things, though just a few moments later, the Devils got one back via Joey Anderson’s first goal of the year on a defensive breakdown in front from the Hurricanes.
Pesce and Staal got off their discipline shortly thereafter, both getting whistled for tripping penalties and forcing their teammates to kill off a pretty lengthy 5-on-3.
The best penalty killer during that sequence was Mrazek, who did everything humanly possible to keep the puck out of the net. That included an unbelievable sequence of near-goals that eventually ended with Edmundson knocking a puck out of mid-air and clearing it 190 feet down the ice from his own goal line.
The final horn sounded and the Hurricanes were on the right side of a 5-2 final score. An announced Valentine’s Day attendance of 18,680 people were on deck to watch what was one of the team’s most complete efforts in quite some time.
The win boosts Carolina to 33-21-3 on the season. Mrazek stopped 35 shots in what ended up being an awesome start, following up his equally impressive performance in Dallas. Niederreiter, Necas, and Pesce all had multi-point games.
Next up for the Hurricanes another home game, against Leon Draisaitl and a heavily depleted Edmonton Oilers club.