Nedeljkovic, Hamilton hook up for game-winning OT goal

Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton celebrates his game-winning overtime goal with teammate Sebastian Aho in Carolina’s 2-1 win Saturday over Columbus at PNC Arena. (Karl B. DeBlaker / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — Dougie Hamilton scored a breakaway goal in overtime on a pass by Hurricanes goalie Alex Nedeljkovic to give Carolina a 2-1 win over Columbus on Saturday at PNC Arena. Teuvo Teravainen scored the Hurricanes’ other goal in the victory, giving the Hurricanes 10 straight games with at least one point.

Three Thoughts

1. In their eighth and final matchup of the season, the Hurricanes and Blue Jackets engaged in the type of game that generally favors Columbus. While there were plenty of shots on goal, the game was played mostly at 5-on-5 — save for the Blue Jackets’ lengthy two-man advantage in the third period — and goalies Elvis Merzlikins and Nedeljkovic each played well and made 31 saves.

But all of that goes out the window in overtime when one mistake or great play can end the game in an instant. It was the latter on Saturday, with Nedeljkovic using his puck-handling skills to angle a long pass off the boards to Hamilton for a breakaway that became the game-winning goal.

“It can’t get much better than that, besides scoring yourself,” Nedeljkovic said. “It’s great. It’s something I enjoy doing. I feel like it makes our D’s lives a lot easier. We spend less time in our own end. I think (Columbus) did a good job of not giving me a lot of opportunities to play the puck tonight, so it was nice to get one there in overtime when things are more open, and we capitalized on it.”

Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said Nedeljkovic’s awareness of the situation led to the winning pass and finish.

“It’s just a heads-up play.”

2. Carolina’s top line has returned to its form from last season when Andrei Svechnikov joined Sebastian Aho and Teravainen. The trio scored the Hurricanes’ first goal when Teravainen one-timed an Aho pass at 18:44 of the second period to give him his second goal in as many games.

“That was the best line on the ice,” Brind’Amour said. They probably deserved a few more chances there. … They were really second and third efforts, just keeping pucks alive. When they’re doing that, they’re tough to contain.”

3. The Hurricanes now have a near stranglehold on the Central Division. Tampa Bay lost a 1-0 shootout to Detroit on Saturday and are now four points behind Carolina with both teams having five games remaining. Florida, 5-4 winners in Chicago, are only two points behind the Hurricanes but have already played a league-high 53 games and have just three remaining.

On top of inching toward a division title, the Hurricanes remain first in the NHL in points but are just one ahead of Vegas, which has a game in hand on Carolina. Finishing atop the league would come with home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. It was also lead to the Hurricanes receiving the Presidents’ Trophy for the first time in franchise history.

Not that Brind’Amour and his team care much about any trophy that gets handed out at the end of the regular season instead of the postseason.

“I don’t know how much that trophy matters,” Brind’Amour said. “It’s probably the most irrelevant trophy out there. You’re not playing for that. … If it falls in our laps because we play well in the last five games, great. We want to get first in the division, that’s the thing that’s obviously most important, and that’s what we’ll try to do.”

Hamilton won the trophy with Boston in 2013-14, a season that ended in disappointment with a second-round playoff exit.

“I don’t think you go out there thinking, ‘We want to win the Presidents’ Trophy,’” Hamilton said. “We want to win the next game and the next game and the next game. I think I won it in my second year, and I’ve got the trophy at home. I think it’s pretty cool. So hopefully we can keep going and get another one of those.”

Number To Know

1 — Assist for Nedeljkovic, the first point for a Hurricanes goalie since Petr Mrazek had an assist on March 30, 2019, according to Hockey-Reference.com. Before that, Cam Ward and Michael Leighton had an assist 10 days apart in late 2016. Eddie Lack actually had assists on consecutive days on Dec. 11-12, 2015.

One goalie in franchise history has two assists in a game: Whalers goalie Kay Whitmore on March 30, 1989, in a 9-5 win over Pittsburgh. Mario Lemieux had four assists for the Penguins in the loss — his staggering 80th, 81st, 82nd and 83rd goals of the season. Ray Ferraro had his 39th and 40th goal of the season that night.

Whitmore assisted on goals by Ulf Samuelsson & John Anderson. Three current NHL coaches, Dean Evanson (Minnesota), Dave Tippett (Edmonton) and Joel Quenneville (Florida), played for the Whalers that night. Ron Francis had no points despite the nine Hartford goals.

They Said It

“If he can keep going here, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him score a goal soon too.”

— Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton on goalie Alex Nedeljkovic’s puck-handling skills.

Plus

Jaccob Slavin, Hurricanes defenseman — The game never gets to overtime without Slavin, who was celebrating his 27th birthday. His block of Emil Benstrom’s shot toward an empty net eight minutes into the game kept Columbus from building a 2-0 lead. Then in the third period, he was the anchor of a 5-on-3 penalty kill, logging a 2:23 shift — after his previous shift was a pedestrian 1:45 — to help Carolina survive a two-man disadvantage that was brought on in part by an iffy delay of game call on Warren Foegele — that kept the game tied at 1.

“He’s great. He’s phenomenal,” Brind’Amour said of Slavin. “And then overtime too, the same thing. He has shifts where he just gets out there, goes all the way in for a rush but is still able to get back and stop their chance. He’s an incredible player, and we’re just so lucky to have him.”

On Saturday, he was likely the difference between a win and a loss.

Minus

Jake Bean, Hurricanes defenseman — Bean got turned around on Columbus’ first-period goal, having the centering pass hit his skate and the puck eventually end up in the net off Max Domi’s stick. Then Domi nearly victimized Bean again, getting a pass through the Carolina defender and to Eric Robinson for a Grade-A chance, but Nedeljkovic made the save. Bean, who was on the ice for eight high-danger scoring chances against, played just 4:14 in the third period, the fewest minutes of the Hurricanes’ six defensemen.