Maybe it’s simply the caliber of the competition, or fallout from Andrei Svechnikov’s injury, or some late-season doldrums, but the Carolina Hurricanes seemingly were on a slide.
But the Canes found a way to win Saturday, beating the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-3 at PNC Arena as goalie Pyotr Kochetkov had 41 saves.
Sebastian Aho’s goal with 2:26 left in regulation gave the Canes a 4-3 lead after Auston Matthews had tied the score for the Maple Leafs with his second of the game with 2:58 left, and Teuvo Teravainen capped the scoring with an empty-netter with 1:17 to play.
Stefan Noesen had pushed the Canes ahead 3-2 at 8:13 of the third, jamming the puck past goalie Matt Murray after a wraparound chance by the winger. Noesen, it was Noesen’s 12th goal of the season and for the Canes was much needed after having a 2-0 lead evaporate.
But Matthews, on the attack all game, poked the puck past Kochetkov on a play that was reviewed after it sounded like the whistle blew before the puck went over the line.
The Canes (47-16-8) maintained their lead in the Metropolitan Division over the New Jersey Devils.
Next up: the Boston Bruins, the best team in the NHL. The Canes and Bruins face off Sunday in a 5 p.m. game at PNC Arena.
The Canes, who took a 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers on Thursday, had lost four of seven before Saturday. They were 3-3 since losing Svechnikov to a season-ending knee injury, including a 5-2 loss in Toronto a week ago, and Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour had juggled his lines looking for answers.
The Canes were the more opportunistic team in the first period Saturday, taking a 2-0 lead on goals by Brent Burns and captain Jordan Staal.
But the Maple Leafs (43-20-9) badly outplayed the Canes in the second, keeping the puck in the Carolina zone and the pressure on Kochetkov. Matthews had nine shots in the period, constantly attacking and looking to beat Kochetkov.
Calle Jarnkrok scored the Leafs’ first goal and Matthews in the second, and Kochetkov denied Matthews at the post with 21 seconds left in the second period to keep the score tied.
The Canes converted on a 5-on-3 power play in the first after penalties to the Leafs’ Jake McCabe and Noel Acciari. Burns, open at the top of the slot, ripped a shot past Murray for his 13th of the season and first in 14 games.
Staal scored his 17th, and first in 12 games, after a strong forechecking shift by his line as Jordan Martinook and Jesper Fast worked hard. Staal swiped at the loose puck, knocking it past Murray.
The Leafs were pushing, but not converting in the first, getting 12 high-danger scoring chances in the period but unable to beat Kochetkov.
That changed in the second period as the Leafs were able to get Matthews’ line, with Mitch Marner and Jarnkrok on the wings, some time on the ice while Staal’s line was off it.
Matthews tied the score 2-2 with his 35th after a long forechecking shift by Aho’s line for Carolina. The Leafs then beat the Canes down the ice in transition and Matthews blasted a shot from the top of the slot.