Foligno’s late goal lifts Blue Jackets over Hurricanes 3-2

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Cam Atkinson scored after missing a dozen games with an injury, Nick Foligno got his first goal in 23 games and rookie goalie Elvis Merzlikins turned in another gem. All that said, the Columbus Blue Jackets probably shouldn’t have won Thursday night.

The Blue Jackets had trouble generating many offensive chances for a large chunk of the game, but Foligno found the back of the net with 1:41 left to steal the 3-2 win from the Carolina Hurricanes.

The 18 shots on goal generated by the Blue Jackets in the game were the second-fewest of the season.

“As a group it was just one of those lethargic games. I can’t explain it,” said John Tortorella, who picked up his 200th win as Columbus coach. “But it’s a find-a-way league. I thought we played a better third period, Elvis gives us a chance. I’m certainly not going to apologize for the win.”

The Blue Jackets have won three straight, are 5-0-1 in the last six and are in the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Division after being 11 points outside of a playoff spot on Dec. 7.

Emil Bemstrom also scored for Columbus, and Merlikins recorded 32 saves.

“I think we’re confident, we’re quietly confident,” Foligno said. “We put together a good string of games, and tonight was probably our ugliest one in awhile, but there’s still things to take away from it.”

Martin Necas and Jordan Staal scored, and Petr Mrazek had 15 saves for the Hurricanes, who lost their second straight.

“It’s a tough one,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “That was probably our best game of the year in terms of playing the way we want to play. The other team didn’t really have a lot. We gave them a couple and they found the net, give them credit. It was a hard fought game, it just didn’t go the way it probably should have. I think we were the better team.”

Carolina All-Star defenseman Dougie Hamilton had to be helped off the ice after getting tangled up with Columbus’ Kevin Stenlund and falling awkwardly on his right leg near the end of the second period. Brind’Amour didn’t have a status report but said “it doesn’t look good.”

“Probably one of our best players this year,” Carolina forward Jordan Martinook said of Hamilton. “It shook everybody up when they saw it happen, found out what happened. That’s a lot of minutes and big minutes to find, and guys have to step up and hopefully we’ll get him back sooner rather than later.”

The rookie Bemstrom — who was headhunted by Boston after he knocked goalie Tuukka Rask out of Tuesday’s game — scored on Carolina 1:07 into the first period with a high wrist shot off the rush. That was one of just four shots the Blue Jackets managed in the first period.

Necas tied the score with his 11th goal of the season on a breakaway 8:38 into the second period, ending Merzlikins’ shutout streak at 166:29. The Columbus goalie had recorded shutouts in the Blue Jackets’ last two games.

Atkinson collected the puck just inside the right circle and snapped it past Mrazek 4:51 into the third period. The Hurricanes tied the score again when Staal shielded Merlikins in front of the net and then deflected a Teuvo Teravainen shot for a score.

That set the stage for Foligno’s late-game heroics.

“Just finding a way to pitch in and help, it feels great,” Foligno said. “Just finding a way in a really ugly one for us.”

NOTES: An apparent go-ahead goal in the third period by Zach Werenski was waved off because the Blue Jackets were offside. … Columbus scratched Sonny Milano to make room for the returning Atkinson. … Bemstrom has two goals and an assist in the last three games. … The Blue Jackets blocked 26 shots. … Hurricanes D Jaccob Slavin played in his 350th consecutive game, passing Eric Staal for the second-longest streak in the organization’s history.

UP NEXT:

Hurricanes: Host Anaheim on Friday.

Blue Jackets: Host New Jersey on Saturday.