Carolina rallies past Columbus

Eric Staal combined with his brother Jordan to score three goals against the Blue Jackets.

RALEIGH, N.C. — Don’t look now, but the Carolina Hurricanes (24-19-9) are exactly where they need to be. 

It’s been a struggle this year, but the 3-2 win against the Blue Jackets (26-22-4) might just be a microcosm of the season to date.

The win was a come-from-behind effort, and just when it seemed like nothing was going the Hurricanes’ way, a late rally paid off as they scored three goals in the final period after going down 2-0 in the first two and a half minutes of the game.

It was a complete reversal of the game before Christmas in Columbus, when the Hurricanes led 3-2 with four minutes to go and it took all of 90 seconds for the Hurricanes to trail 4-3, which would be the final margin. 

The Hurricanes felt as if they owed the Blue Jackets one. Particularly since they hadn’t beaten the Blue Jackets in their last seven tries.

"Obviously, the game before Christmas, we gave that one to them. I think tonight was kind of right back at them," said Carolina center Jordan Staal, who scored the go-ahead goal at the 14:05 mark of the third. "It’s a very good team over there. They play a very unique style, very patient and very tough to play against."

The Hurricanes didn’t panic after allowing two early goals in a 17-second span. They knew they’d have a long game ahead of them against the big, physical Blue Jackets, and they were right. 

"I think it was great because again, we keep talking about staying the course and keeping that structure, winning and losing, during the game," Hurricanes head coach Kirk Muller said. "But these are the teams that we’ve got to learn to beat, teams that are big and strong on the boards and grind you down. We went five periods without scoring a goal against them so the guys stayed with it and found a way."

Jordan’s brother Eric came through in a big way, too. It was a frustrating night for the Hurricanes, who outshot the Blue Jackets 17-9 in the second period without finding the net. 

But Eric Staal rallied his teammates on the bench, encouraging them to stay the course, and he led the way by scoring two goals in a minute of game action a little over 11 minutes into the third to even the game at 2-2. 

"It was good because you’re starting to see a little less frustration in games like this right now with our leaders. Instead, they’re vocal and they battle through and found a way to win that hockey game for us," Muller said. "Everyone should feel part of it and contributed but if your best players come through like that, that’s a great sign. Instead of getting the frustration, which at times, maybe earlier, you’d see with Eric last year at different times. Now, it’s more like you go by your actions. In the last few weeks here, he’s really elevated his game and come up with big plays. That’s a big game and our big boys came out with big goals and made a difference."

Most importantly, though, the win vaulted the Hurricanes ahead of Columbus in the standings, putting them into third place in the Metropolitan Division with five games to go before the Olympic break.

Winners of four straight and 10 of the last 13, the Hurricanes have put themselves in great position to be in contention for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, which will likely come down to the wire. 

"We have to build our confidence every single game," goalie Anton Khudobin, who had a number of impressive saves late, said. "If we’re going to continue to play like this, sometimes maybe you feel good about yourself even if you lose a game. It just maybe didn’t go your way. But at the same time, right now it was good for confidence and we have to keep moving forward and moving and moving and moving. We can’t stop."

But the Hurricanes will travel to Montreal tomorrow night for their seventh game in a span of 10 days. 

Muller, though, didn’t offer up any excuses. With a snow-delayed game at Philadelphia last week, the Hurricanes will be playing their fifth game in six days tomorrow night. But the schedule is what the schedule is, per Muller, and the team is going to have to keep fighting through fatigue. 

"Tonight was a real test but now it’s like, we can’t let anyone off the hook and no excuses. It’s the schedule. Can’t do anything about it," Muller said. "This is like playoff-style hockey — you’ve got to grind through it when you’re tired, whether it’s mental or physical, and you’ve got to find a way to get the job done. These are like extended playoffs. These are where our young guys and guys that haven’t been through this kind of stuff are going to have to learn to get the job done."