The Carolina Hurricanes won their seventh straight overall and matched that number of consecutive wins at home as the team’s late-season push is becoming a little more serious than anticipated a month ago after a 4-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators.
Carolina struck for two goals in the opening 6:23, got another from Chad LaRose late in the second and cruised past the Northeast Division leaders as if they were standing still Thursday night.
The Canes have done anything but pack it in during recent weeks, having won 11 of 13 to creep within shouting distance of the playoff contenders in the bottleneck that is the Eastern Conference with 19 regular-season games left.
The Hurricanes haven’t just been winning since Feb. 5, they’ve been steamrolling teams, having outscored opponents 29-12 without the services of starting goalie Cam Ward, who injured his back in early February.
“Whoever we’re putting in there, we’re working hard for each other and that’s the spirited thing about this group now,” said former captain Rod Brind’Amour. “And we’re playing for the fans who are supporting us. The crowds have been great all year … and hopefully we can make it exciting and give them something to cheer about.”
The Olympic break and the NHL trade deadline, in which the Canes dealt six players, couldn’t even halt the Canes’ momentum, with a 5-1 win the other night in Toronto and this three-goal win in a game in which eight players suited up that didn’t start the season in Raleigh.
“It’s just part of the business and we all know that,” Brind’Amour said about all the player movement Wednesday. “There are not many guys in this room that won’t experience that.”
New defenseman Brian Pothier fit in like a glove next to Tim Gleason, playing 22:17 and blocking a team-high five shots.
“When I pulled in this morning I had played with a handful of these guys before so it wasn’t a huge adjustment,” the former Washington Capital said. “In general, hockey guys are pretty phenomenal guys and they make it really easy on you. And on the ice it was great. There was a lot of talking out there and guys were trying to help me out.”
“We had a pretty good scouting report on Brian because he’s been in the league and he’s a very good puck-moving defenseman. I thought he played very well,” coach Paul Maurice said of Pothier.
LaRose, who had a three-point game against the Maple Leafs in his return from injury, gave Carolina a 3-0 lead with 4:10 left in the second as he fought off a check in the corner from Andy Sutton -- a player nearly a foot taller – and made his way to the front of the cage for a rebound goal off an Eric Staal shot.
In net, Manny Legace made 25 saves to win against the only NHL team he hadn’t defeated in his 11-year career prior to this night. It appeared Legace would register the team’s first shutout of the season after he stopped a shorthanded breakaway bid midway through the third from Daniel Alfredsson, but former Cane Matt Cullen scored with 8:05 remaining.
Brandon Sutter added the last goal just five seconds after Ottawa had pulled Brian Elliott for an extra attacker.
Carolina chased Ottawa goalie Pascal Leclaire after just five shots when fourth-liners Tom Kostopoulos and Brind’Amour struck for early first-period goals 1:05 apart. Both came off assists from rookie Zach Boychuk, who was recalled for the sixth time this season after the Canes made six trades Wednesday.
The effort from this line is typical of the effort from the entire lineup over the last two months after the worst start in franchise history.
Kostopoulos notched his ninth of the season when he intercepted a clearing pass from Leclaire that was deflected by Boychuk and skated freely out of the corner, pounding in his own rebound.
Meanwhile, Brind’Amour scored the 449th of his career and first in 12 games when his backhander in the slot found its way under the pads of Leclaire.
“It’s so key to get ahead,” Brind’Amour said. “You can afford a mistake. You saw we gave one up in the third but it was OK because we were up. And I can’t say enough about our goaltending in this stretch. That’s the difference. When we’re getting chances we’re scoring and they’re not. It’s a world of difference when we can stop breakaways. Maybe at the start of the year those things weren’t happening for us.”
It was the second straight home game in which the Canes chased a starting goalie. New Jersey future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur was also relieved in the last game before the Olympic break, a 5-2 win for Carolina.
“When we start watching the scoreboard we seem to take a step backwards, so we’ll just worry about playing a game at a time and just try to have fun and see what happens,” Brind’Amour said.
“As a group everybody is comfortable where they’re at in the lineup and contributing every night and that’s been the difference,” added Staal. “Rod’s line was extremely good and they had a great start and that just fed the rest of the way through the lineup.”
NOTES: Carolina pulled within two of the club record of nine straight wins. … Jussi Jokinen saw his 10-game point streak come to an end. … Ray Whitney’s point streak also ended at five. … The Canes have beaten the Senators in five straight at the RBC Center, outscoring them 17-5 in the process. … Tuomo Ruutu outhit his brother Jarkko 8-0. … Brind’Amour was a plus 2 for the first time since Oct. 9. … With Ottawa going 0-for-2 on the power play the Canes have now killed off 27 of the last 28 penalties over the last eight games.