RALEIGH — If Saturday night at PNC Arena had been a boxing match, the Hurricanes would have been saved by the bell in the second round. The Maple Leafs looked every bit the Stanley Cup contender, outshooting Carolina more than three-to-one while erasing a two-goal deficit in the middle frame.
When Toronto got a power play early in the third period, it seems inevitable that the Maple Leafs convert and finally go ahead.
Instead, the Hurricanes killed off the penalty and followed that with a Stefan Noesen goal to regain the lead with under 12 minutes left.
It still wasn’t over.
Toronto’s Auston Matthews got his second goal of the night with 2:58 left to tie the game again, with the refs overturning their own whistle to say he scored on a continuation of a play initially blown dead.
Carolina again showed it always has a puncher’s chance, with Sebastian Aho backhanding in a rebound of a Jaccob Slavin shot to put the Hurricanes ahead for good with 2:26 left in a 5-3 win over the Maple Leafs in front of a standing-room-only crowd of 18,895.
“I guess there’s two options: keep going and stick with it, or just kind of drop your shoulders and let it go,” Aho said of the adversity in the game. “We definitely did a good job to bounce back and didn’t change too much how we approached the next shift.”
There were plenty of opportunities for Carolina to throw in the towel — specifically in the second period.
Toronto outshot the Hurricanes 18-5 in the middle frame and erased Carolina’s 2-0 first period lead, getting goals from Calle Jarnkrok and Matthews.
“Their world-class talent took over,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said, “and we just watched it happen.”
Matthews had nine shots on goal in the middle 20 minutes of the game, the most by any player in a period this season, and the Hurricanes were fighting to just survive to the intermission as the Maple Leafs’ relentless attack persisted.
“They were just coming in waves, and if it wasn’t for a goalie, obviously, we wouldn’t have won,” Brind’Amour said.
The goalie, rookie Pyotr Kochetkov, made a career-high 41 saves and looked exhausted in the locker room following the win.
“Was that fun?” I asked the 23-year-old Russian, who is still learning English.
“No,” he said.”
“Work?” I countered.
If the Leafs dominated the second period, the Hurricanes owned the first.
After Carolina forward Martin Necas was high-sticked by Toronto defenseman Jake McCabe, the Hurricanes quickly got a 5-on-3 power play when Noel Acciari was called for hooking.
Carolina needed just 25 seconds to score, with Brent Burns creeping between the circles and wristing a shot past Matt Murray (24 saves) for a 1-0 lead at 1:54 of the first.
The Hurricanes doubled their lead near the midway point of the first.
A stretch pass by Carolina forward Jesper Fast to Jordan Martinook helped the Hurricanes establish possession, and Fast caught up with the play and crashed the net. Martinook’s pass to Fast was blocked, but Jordan Staal hit it on a bounce and knocked it past Murray for a 2-0 lead at 10:52 of the first.
The tally, Staal’s 17th of the season, ended an 11-game goal drought for the Carolina captain.
“The power play goal, it was nice to get one,” Brind’Amour said. “It at least got us going, and I felt like we built a really good first period. But then it just kind of went the other way.”
With Kochetkov impenetrable down low, the Leafs scored twice on open wrists shots in the slot, first by Jarnkrok and then Matthews.
Carolina hobbled into the locker room for the second intermission and then had to kill off Martinook’s tripping penalty just over five minutes into the third.
But Carolina built momentum off its third successful kill of the night and went ahead just under a minute later.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi stole a Toronto dump-in and led a rush up ice. He fed a cross-ice pass to Noesen, who bobbled the puck, spun around the net and tried to sweep in a wraparound. The puck stopped on the goal line, and Noesen jabbed at Toronto forward Acciari’s stick to force the puck in at 8:13 to give Carolina a 3-2 lead.
“It was a great pass,” Noesen said. “I really wanted to one-(time) that. Confidence isn’t through the roof, but I was able to hold onto it and stuff it around. It was sitting there and I think they all thought that Matt was covering it, and that’s a typical Noesen goal right there.”
Matthews — playing arguably his best game of the season — tied it again at 17:02 when he shot the puck in after it squirted out to him despite the whistle blowing for Kochetkov covering it.
The referees — much to Brind’Amour’s disagreement — ruled the goal a continuation to tie the score.
That set the stage for Aho to score his 32nd of the season.
Necas passed the puck to Slavin at the point, and the rebound of his shot kicked right to Aho to backhand over Murray’s left pad.
“Yawning cage,” Aho said.
Teuvo Teravainen added an empty-net goal with 1:17 left to seal the win.
“We found a way … at the end of the day, goalie was great,” Brind’Amour said.
Notes: Matthews’ 15 shots tied a Maple Leafs franchise record and were the most by any player this season. … Aho has five goals and six points in his last four games. … Necas had two assists. … Kochetkov’s 41 saves were the most by a Carolina goalie in a regulation game since James Reimer had that many in a 2-0 win over the Kings on Jan. 11, 2020. … Burns played in his 750th consecutive game