Hurricanes end slide with dominant shutout in Columbus

Hurricanes goalie Alex Nedeljkovic makes a save as teammate Brady Skjei and Blue Jackets center Riley Nash look for the puck during the Carolina’s 3-0 win Monday in Columbus. (Jay LaPrete / AP Photo)

The Carolina Hurricanes ended their three-game winless streak with a dominant 3-0 win Monday in Columbus. Carolina improved to 21-7-3 on the season, three points behind Tampa Bay for first place in the Central Division and one ahead of Florida.

Brady Skjei, Jesper Fast and Martin Necas scored for the Hurricanes.

Three Thoughts

1. Take your pick: Rod Brind’Amour as Mad magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman saying “What, me worry?” or the Hurricanes coach on the cover of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” towel in hand, sporting a “Don’t panic” button.

In this choose your own adventure, the result is the same. Brind’Amour wasn’t concerned about his team after it dropped a third straight game following Saturday’s shootout loss at home to Columbus, and it turned out he didn’t need to be.

“I felt really good about our games,” Brind’Amour said of the first two games against Columbus after Monday’s win. “We had one iffy period out of the whole set so far, and that was the first game, the first period.

“Tonight was a solid effort all the way around, got some nice plays. (You) don’t always cash in but tonight they did, and I thought, for two periods especially, we just kind of controlled the game and did what we had to to win the game.”

Carolina is now in position to get six of a possible eight points in the four-game series with Columbus despite losing the first two games by banking two loser points.

2. Necas, Sebastian Aho and Nino Niederreiter continue to be be a dynamic line. Just past the game’s midway point with Carolina up 2-0, Niederreiter won a battle along the boards and got the puck to Dougie Hamilton. Hamilton led the rush, dished to Aho on the left wing and crashed the net.

Aho passed to the trailing Necas, who quickly passed back to Aho. Aho one-touched the puck to Necas on a give-and-go for a one-timer that gave the Hurricanes a 3-0 lead.

It was the fourth goal for Necas in March and his sixth of the season, and he now has 11 points in as many games this month.

Aho, who was credited with two assists Monday, has seven goals and 13 points in the same number of games. Niederreiter has four goals and four assists in March.

3. Alex Nedeljkovic had a quiet but solid night, making 19 saves for his second career shutout and doing it in his home state of Ohio. It might not match the first, but it was special in its own right.

“You can never top the first one,” Nedeljkovic said. “The first one only happens once. … But yeah, it’s special. I had family in the stands tonight, so that was nice for them to actually be here to see, and hopefully I can grab them for a quick second here after the game and just kind of reminisce in the moment and take this all in.”

Nedeljkovic, now 7-2-2 with a .930 save percentage and 1.96 goals-against average, continues to gain confidence as an NHL goalie, and his teammates are adapting to his aggressive puck-handling.

“I think they had a good idea about how much I do it, but I don’t think they fully realized how much I did it,” Nedeljkovic said of playing the puck, which he did plenty on Monday. “And I think it’s starting to show now. For the most part, things are pretty smooth. … We spend so much less time in our end when it goes smoothly. And even if it doesn’t work out perfectly, the puck’s away from the net, the puck’s on the boards and our wingers do a great job of batting those pucks out and living to fight another day.”

Number To Know

45 — Combined regular season and playoff games without a goal for defenseman Brady Skjei since he joined the Hurricanes, a drought he ended Monday with a first-period goal that proved to be the game-winner.

They Said It

“It’s pretty cool. I didn’t know the Carolina Hurricanes were around in 1980.”

— Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton on breaking the franchise record for longest point streak by a defenseman by extending his streak to 12 games with an assist. The mark was previously held by Hartford defenseman Mark Howe, who had an 11-game point streak in the 1979-80 season.

Plus

Jesper Fast, Hurricanes forward — The lack of a training camp probably impacted Fast more than any other Hurricanes player, and then the hard-working winger missed even more opportunity to jell with his teammates after being one of the players impacted by Carolina’s COVID-19 shutdown. Fast, however, has clearly found his groove.

The 29-year-old Sweden has 11 points in his last 15, including a goal and an assist Monday, and all but three of those points have come at even strength.

Minus

Jordan Martinook, Hurricanes forward — Martinook was penalized twice Monday, both in the second period, but Carolina’s penalty kill covered for him on both. Martinook now has six PIMs in the past two games after having just 10 total in his first 26 games of the season.