Hurricanes cruise past Leafs after surviving polar vortex

Andrej Sekera (left) congratulates Jordan Staal after his goal.

RALEIGH, N.C. — The polar vortex put most of the nation in a deep freeze, and the Carolina Hurricanes (19-16-9) were worried that it would put their red-hot streak on ice. 

They traveled to Buffalo for a game on Tuesday, only to have it postponed by a blizzard amidst said polar vortex that created conditions too dangerous to be outside in, let alone drive to a hockey game. 

So the team sat in their hotel rooms with nowhere to go and nothing to do but wait.

"It was a really slow day in Buffalo cooped up in your room and you couldn’t do much, so it was different," Jordan Staal said. 

What did they do with all that free time? 

"A lot of cards, and that’s about it," Staal said. 

After all the card-playing, the team flew back to Raleigh on Wednesday afternoon and practiced right after returning in preparation for their game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. 

That paid off, as the Hurricanes downed Toronto (21-19-5) by a dominant 6-1 score. 

"You could tell the leadership in this room told the guys to be ready yesterday, ready to have a good practice and be sharp for tonight’s game, and you could tell everyone was ready to go," Staal, who tied his career high with four points (a goal and three assists), said.

It was the fifth win in a row for the Hurricanes, and the team is as confident as it has been all season. 

They started off strong and finished strong, which is not something the team had been doing consistently all season. 

"Who knows, maybe that game cancelled in Buffalo gave us an extra day or two of rest," head coach Kirk Muller said. "I didn’t know which way it was going to turn out tonight, but I think that really helped us. We had fresh legs. We had everyone contributing so I was able to use the full bench, which was great."

The team knows success is somewhat fleeting in the grind of an NHL season. With nine games in the next 18 days, starting with a game at the Columbus Blue Jackets tomorrow night, nothing is going to come easy. 

"I think it’s just the NHL with our schedule — as much as you’re excited, and they should be. They played well. They had a really good game," Muller said. "But man, we’ve got to do it all over again tomorrow night. It’s just kind of keeping everything clear and understand why we’re doing well right now. But if you don’t come and work tomorrow night and put the same effort in, you won’t get the same result."

"Every game is so important right now," Zach Boychuk, who got his first goal of the season, said. "You look at how tight the standings are in our division. Going into tomorrow’s game, we’re going to just try to play a similar style on the road with a back-to-back, just keep it simple."

But the streak is not insignificant. It’s the first time the Hurricanes have won five in a row since 2010 (they won seven straight that year). 

"We’re playing well. We’re getting some great saves from (goalkeeper Anton) Khudobin when he needs to and at the same time, we’re sticking with our game and pucks are going in and things are moving well," Staal said. "Hopefully, we’ll just keep riding this as long as we can and keep this momentum going."

Khudobin was one of the afterthoughts of the win, although perhaps he shouldn’t have been. He went to 6-0 on the season and saved 25 of the 26 shots he saw. 

"He’s playing well. He’s right now given our group a confidence. He’s making big saves and he’s solid in there," Muller said. "If you get that, you look around the league right now, goaltending is bigger than ever and he’s done the job."

He’s fine with flying under the radar, though. 

"Maybe it’s just 6-0 right now, everybody is talking about it," Khudobin said. "But at the same time, every game I take as a regular game and I just move forward and try to do every game the same what I can, save my teammates, save pucks and just get that magic word — ‘W’."