Hurricanes build lead, hold on in win at Nashville

Hurricanes center Steven Lorentz scored his first career goal in Carolina’s 4-2 win Tuesday in Nashville. (Mark Humphrey / AP Photo)

The Carolina Hurricanes built a three-goal cushion and held on to a 4-2 win over the Predators on Tuesday in Nashville. Sebastian Aho scored twice, and Vincent Trocheck and Steven Lorentz also scored. James Reimer made 36 saves to improve to 10-3-0 on the season.

Three Thoughts

1. After playing top-of-the-division competition the previous six games, the Hurricanes could have gone one of two ways in Nashville on Tuesday. It would have been easy for Carolina, playing its second game in as many nights with travel involved, to come out flat with heavy legs. Or the Hurricanes could carry over the playoff feel of the games against the Lightning and Panthers and apply it to the Predators.

They chose the latter.

Carolina came out of the gates with energy and didn’t relent. First, the combination of Aho and Martin Necas took advantage of open ice for the second straight night, with Necas setting up Aho at 4 on 4 a day after they connected at 3 on 3.

Trocheck’s power play goal and Lorentz’s first NHL gave Carolina a 3-0 cushion it needed as they predictably finally hit a wall in the third.

Asked if he had any concerns about the third-period struggles, coach Rod Brind’Amour answered succinctly, then elaborated.

“None. I’m happy we won,” he said. “We dominated for two periods again. The other team gets paid a lot of money, and they’re gonna come out and play hard in the third period. I’ll take this all day long. Three in four nights, travel, getting in three in the morning. There’s absolutely zero to be negative about in my part.”

2. Goals for Brock McGinn and Jordan Staal have dried up, Andrei Svechnikov’s drought hit six games — 14 if we don’t count his one empty-net goal — and Dougie Hamilton is still stuck on one goal. Trocheck, who scored his team-leading 12th goal Tuesday, has been the lone consistent scorer, having not gone more than three games without a goal this season.

Carolina is surely hoping Aho is ready to join Trocheck as a relied-upon primary scoring threat.

Aho had his first two-goal game of the season Tuesday, opening the scoring off the feed from Necas and later putting an end to Carolina’s worries with the empty-net goal that sealed the win.

The Hurricanes center admitted after the game that the physical toll of the NHL’s condensed schedule is nothing compared to the mental one the players are going through.

“To be honest, I felt today better than yesterday,” he said. “I don’t know why. It’s tough, but it’s tough for everyone. … I don’t think the issue is the physical side because we’ve got way less travel and stuff like that. I feel like it’s more like a mental grind, and if you can prepare yourself every night, you’ll feel fine, and I think that’s what happened today.”

3. The next few weeks offer Carolina an easier road. After playing 16 games since Feb. 2 — including three sets of three games in four days — the Hurricanes don’t play another back-to-back until April 3-4. The recent slew of games against fellow Central Division contenders Tampa Bay and Florida are replaced in March by three against Detroit, four vs. Columbus and two more with Nashville.

As every coach and player is fond of saying, there are no easy wins in the NHL. The first 22 games of the season have shown Carolina is a good team. But great teams win a lot of their tough games while piling up points against lesser ones. The rest of March will be a good chance to see if the Hurricanes can be great.

Number To Know

9-4 — The Hurricanes’ deficit in goals in third periods, minus empty-net goals, in the past six games. Carolina managed to hold onto its lead Tuesday, allowing two goals to make it a one-goal game before Aho added an empty-netter, but has now been outscored in the third period in each of its last six.

They Said It

“I knew I had to let two in, so that was the plan.”

— Hurricanes goalie James Reimer on joking with Lorentz that he allowed two goals in the third period so the rookie would be credited with a game-winner on his first NHL goal.

Plus

Steve Lorentz, Hurricanes forward — In his 12th NHL game, Lorentz finally got his first NHL goal, scoring off a rebound with a rising shot that got by Pekka Rinne. With Nashville’s third-period push, his goal ended up being the game-winner.

Lorentz’s path to the NHL has been a long one. Undrafted in his first year of eligibility, the Hurricanes selected him in the final round (186th overall) in 2015. He played a fourth OHL season with Peterborough before securing a pro contract, then spent most of the next season with the ECHL’s Florida Everblades.

He split 2018-19 between the Everblades and AHL Charlotte, playing 12 games in the Checkers’ playoff run to the Calder Cup. Last season, he was Charlotte’s top forward and was among those on the Hurricanes’ return-to-play roster.

Carolina’s COVID-19 shutdown opened the door for Lorentz, and he stormed through. He’s helped make Carolina’s fourth line — with Jordan Martinook and Cedric Paquette on the wings — a reliable and disruptive force nightly.

And Lorentz’s infectious smile was even bigger than usual following the game.

“I’m so happy it went in, and I don’t remember what happened afterwards,” Lorentz said of his goal. “I don’t really know what I did, but the boys are telling me that I was pretty excited and I celebrated big.”

His teammates were nearly as happy for the rookie.

“He’s a great kid,” Aho said. “I’m sure he’ll play many, many years in this league just because of his attitude and his work mentality. So, you’re really, really happy for the guy.”

Minus

Jake Bean, Hurricanes defenseman — It was another night when you couldn’t pinpoint one poor performance, but Bean had the worst possession numbers on the team (28.6 Corsi For percentage) and finished without a shot attempt.