Hurricanes snap out of slump with win over Nashville

Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Brady Skjei, center, celebrates his goal against the Nashville Predators with center Martin Necas (88) and defenseman Brett Pesce (22) during the first period of an NHL hockey game Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, in Raleigh, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Seward)

RALEIGH — The Carolina Hurricanes snapped out of their post All-Star Break funk with a 5-3 win over the visiting Nashville Predators on Friday night.

The Canes came into the game having lost four of their last five, including a frustrating loss to Florida on Wednesday in which Carolina managed just two shots in the third period and overtime.

It appeared the sluggish offense was going to stick around for one more day as the Hurricanes struggled with Nashville’s aggressive, physical play in the early going. Carolina didn’t get a shot on goal until nine minutes into the game.

Once the Canes rediscovered their path to the goal, however, it didn’t take long to cash in. At the 10:24 mark of the first period, Carolina scored off of a faceoff when Brady Skjei skated untouched in front of the Nashville goal and flipped a backhand past Juuse Saros.

“It was just a play we have,” Skjei said. “I made a read, found some open ice, and I think the backhand was the correct play, and then I put it in.”

Skjei has seven goals since the start of the new year, leading all NHL defensemen over that span.

The chippiness on both sides finally erupted late in the first period, as Filip Forsberg and Sebastian Aho went at it behind the Nashville goal. Aho was shoved from behind by Matt Benning, but Aho instead went after Forsberg, hitting him in the upper chest with his stick and picking up a high-sticking and roughing penalty.

The Canes turned up the heat in the second period, outshooting Nashville 11-5 and scoring twice to take a 3-1 lead.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi scored just over five minutes into the period, and, after Nashville got on the board in the final minute, Jaccob Slavin got it back with one second remaining.

“That was huge,” Skjei said of Slavin’s score. “That was enormous. Any time you score late like that, to go up two, it’s really big.”

The Canes added a power play goal by Andrei Svechnikov in the third period. It was just the second time in the last nine games that Carolina has scored four goals.

Nashville tightened things up with a pair of late goals, the last one coming with a man advantage after pulling the goalie, but Svechnikov added an empty netter on the power play for his second of the game and 22nd of the season, moving him into the team lead. It was also just the second time in 11 games that Carolina has netted five goals.

Svechnikov now has 21 points in the last 14 games with 10 goals and 11 assists and is playing some of the best hockey of his career.

“I think he’s had stretches where he’s played this well,” said coach Rod Brind’Amour, “but the puck wasn’t going in. He’s getting the same number of opportunities, but the puck seems to be going in more.”

The win gave Carolina 70 points, tying the Hurricanes with Pittsburgh for the Metropolitan lead.

Nashville lost its fourth straight and fifth in the last six.

The physical game took a toll on the Hurricanes. Vincent Trocheck, who picked up his 20th assist on Skjei’s goal, left the game after the first period with an upper body injury.

“We’re waiting to see if he’s going to be out for a little while or not,” said Brind’Amour.

Martin Necas, who also assisted on the first goal, went down early in the second period and appeared to be in a great deal of pain after taking a puck off the knee.

“It was on my kneecap,” he said. “But I was right back.”

Necas returned to the bench within a minute and assisted on Carolina’s second goal as well, giving him 18 on the season.