After an exhilarating win in Boston 24 hours prior, the Carolina Hurricanes returned home for the second half of a back-to-back. Jordan Martinook's breakaway goal late in the third period was the difference as the team rallied around Spencer Martin in his team debut. Now, the New Jersey Devils awaited the Canes as they locked horns for the first time since they eliminated the Devils from the playoffs in May.
As expected, the only change in the lineup was in the net, as Antti Raanta got the start. This meant Andrei Svechnikov would miss his third straight game. For the Devils, they countered with rookie Nico Daws. The Devils were playing without some critical players, with Jack Hughes, Dougie Hamilton, and Jonas Siegenthaler all out with injuries.
If the Canes were fatigued after their win in Boston, it didn't show early. Sebastian Aho immediately put the Devils on their backfoot, burying a backhander on a breakaway just 90 seconds into the game to take an early lead. As he did on the game-winner in Boston, Teuvo Teravainen made a great pass to Aho to get him into the zone alone. From there, I didn't love the Canes' first period. They were a little sloppy with the puck, allowing the Devils a few good chances. Antti Raanta was ready, helping get the team into the break up 1-0.
The early-period surge in the second period might've been the difference in the game. The Canes needed just three seconds to convert on a power play as Teuvo Teravainen's blast hit someone out front and beat Nico Daws to extend the lead. Before the building could settle back down, Jordan Staal tipped a shot from Brady Skjei into the net, giving the Canes two goals in 25 seconds. This would chase Daws from the game, as the Devils brought in Vitek Vanecek. They also tried to challenge the goal for a missed high stick, but the play was deemed legal as the 3-0 lead stood. This is where things would stand at the intermission as the Canes' defense stood tall to prevent the Devils from getting on the board.
With a sizeable lead, the Canes looked to prevent another collapse like they had in Boston. While it took New Jersey a while to get going, they would eventually break through, courtesy of their fourth line. Alexander Holtz made a great pass to Justin Dowling at the front of the net, and he buried it to get the Devils on the board. From there, the Canes refused to give the Devils an inch. Jesper Bratt snuck one through Antti Raanta with less than three seconds left to make it look closer than it was, but the Canes ended the night with their moms on the ice for the Storm Surge after a 3-2 win.
Coming into this week with a daunting back-to-back against the Bruins and Devils, I would've been happy with a split. Instead, the team put together two solid victories against two highly skilled teams. The Devils might be a little further back in the standings, but they're in a decent spot, considering some of their big stars are dealing with injuries. I've said countless times that it's too early to become hyper-fixated on the standings. However, the Canes now trail the New York Rangers by two points with the same number of games played. It's as close as they've been to the top in a while, but there is still plenty of work to be done.
The Canes once again won all the important battles against the Devils. They beat them on special teams, scoring on the power play and going 3-for-3 on the penalty kill. The Canes prevented the Devils' stars from doing anything meaningful. Jesper Bratt's goal in the final seconds is about all they generated. Meanwhile, Sebastian Aho asserted dominance by scoring early, while Teuvo Teravainen recorded two points, Seth Jarvis earned another point, and their defense was suffocating.
The most important battle was the battle in the net. Nico Daws was chased from the game early after allowing three goals on 14 shots. Vitek Vanecek was solid in relief, but Antti Raanta was phenomenal for 60 minutes. He was especially calm after the Devils made it 3-1. He went into a snow angel to prevent the Devils from getting another one immediately after and made a few stops on Simon Nemec after the penalty kill came up with a huge stop. The interview with his mom on the bench after the game, as the fans serenaded him with cheers, was one of the coolest moments of the season thus far.
The only thing separating the Hurricanes from the All-Star Break is a battle with the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday night. The Coyotes are hanging around the playoff picture, though they've had their fair share of struggles on the road this season. Then, the team will have over a week off before returning to action after the break against the Vancouver Canucks on February 6.