Niederreiter leads Carolina past Edmonton, 3-1
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Nino Niederreiter kept scoring goals for his new team. Curtis McElhinney kept up his mastery of the Edmonton Oilers.
They pushed the Carolina Hurricanes closer to playoff position.
Niederreiter scored two goals, McElhinney stopped the final 40 shots he faced, and the Hurricanes beat the Oilers 3-1 on Friday night.
“Every single game matters a lot,” Niederreiter said, “so we’ve got to make sure we even win the close ones.”
Lucas Wallmark also scored and Sebastian Aho had two assists for the Hurricanes, who have won 15 of 21 since Dec. 31 for the best record in the NHL in that span. Carolina, which has not made the postseason in a decade, moved a point behind idle Pittsburgh for the final wild-card playoff spot in the East.
“I think we’re just getting critical plays at critical times right now,” McElhinney said. “We know what the situation is, and it’s going to take a lot for us to get into the playoffs, but the guys have been rolling since before the break, and we came out of it pretty hot. So it’s just a matter of gas pedal to the floor.”
Leon Draisaitl scored his team-leading 34th goal on the Oilers’ first shot, and Mikko Koskinen made 24 saves while losing his sixth straight decision. Edmonton is 1-7-2 in its last 10 and was held to two or fewer goals in six of those games, all regulation losses.
“We’re generating chances. We’re making plays,” captain Connor McDavid said. “We’re just not finding a way to score.”
The well-traveled McElhinney improved to 7-0-0 against Edmonton — his best career record against any opponent.
With the Hurricanes largely unable to dictate play — Edmonton was outshooting them 29-14 after two periods — he single-handedly kept them in this one, with his best saves coming on a point-blank attempt by Colby Cave with about 13 1/2 minutes left and a stop on McDavid with about 5 minutes remaining to keep it a one-goal game.
Niederreiter then gave Carolina a two-goal lead with 3:37 left by taking a feed from Aho and slipping a knuckler past Koskinen. Since he was acquired from Minnesota on Jan. 17, he has eight goals in 12 games after scoring nine in 46 games with the Wild.
“At the end of the day, you want to be the best player you can be, and sometimes a change helps,” Niederreiter said. “Sometimes it doesn’t, and in my case, it definitely helped a lot.”
It was a successful start to what could be a pivotal stretch for the Hurricanes. They played themselves back into the playoff conversation while polishing off the club’s best five-game road trip since 1998, and of their next seven opponents, six began Friday night’s games behind them in the standings.
Defense was optional early in this one, with the teams combining for three goals in the first 2 minutes, 16 seconds of the game. Goals from Niederreiter and Wallmark sandwiched Draisaitl’s slick goal on a give-and-go, before things tightened up the rest of the way.
“They get the second one, and that’s the way the game goes the rest of the night,” McDavid said. “It’s funny how it works sometimes.”
NOTES: Draisaitl and McDavid have combined to score 65 of the Oilers’ 158 goals. ... Aho, who assisted on both of Neiderreiter’s goals, has a career-high 66 points.... Tempers flared late in the second when Niederreiter, after being hit by Kris Russell, took a run at Oscar Klefbom that sparked a brief melee. Niederreiter received a 2-minute boarding penalty.
Oilers: Complete a three-game road trip Saturday night by visiting the New York Islanders.
Hurricanes: Wrap up a back-to-back set of home games Saturday night against Dallas.
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