The Red Wings made it a struggle for the Carolina Hurricanes once again, one final time, but this time it didn’t produce a victory.
The Hurricanes defeated the Wings, 3-1, on Thursday, salvaging a split of the eight-game season series between the teams.
Go figure. That would be Carolina (33-10-7), with the most points (73) in the NHL, and the Red Wings (17-26-9). But the Wings more than held their own against Carolina, winning just as much as they lost against the division leaders.
But two second-period Carolina goals, then a big Teuvo Teravainen goal in the third period clinched it for the Hurricanes.
“They do a good job of being on top of you. They play tight, they get the puck out of their zone quickly and forecheck well,” forward Luke Glendening said. “When you try to get the puck out, they’ll hound you and their defense is on top of you.
“We were OK in the first and played pretty well getting pucks behind them. They kind of took over the game after that.”
Jakub Vrana scored a highlight-reel goal and goaltender Jonathan Bernier made 29 saves for the Wings.
Brady Skjei and Warren Foegele had those second-period Hurricanes goals, and goalie James Reimer stopped 16 shots.
“The first period we moved the puck quick and moved it well, and had poise and wanted the puck,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “We were certainly a good hockey team. We ground ourselves out in the second and it carried forward to the third. We didn’t play fast and we went backward with it (the puck).
“The whole thing comes down to our puck play.”
The Hurricanes are heading into playoffs with loads of confidence and more experienced depth than they’ve had the past few seasons. Carolina also likes to pressure all over the ice, but the Wings did a good job of countering that this season.
“They’re a team that wants to tilt the ice. They want to play in your end and if you spend a bunch of time in your end, you’re in trouble,” Blashill said after Thursday’s morning skate. “When you get a puck against Carolina, that puck better get out (of the zone) and if it stays in your end, they feed off that and they really get you kind of swimming in your own end.
“When we’ve had some success, we’ve done a good job of being quicker in our end. We’ve done a good job of getting pucks out and done a good job of playing in their end.”
That wasn’t the case for most of Thursday’s game.
And the Wings — ravaged by injuries to goal-scoring forwards Dylan Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi, Robby Fabbri and Bobby Ryan — have won once in the last seven games. They have only scored more than two goals once in that span.
“I know for sure the answer to scoring more is not playing more D-zone coverage,” Blashill said. “We have to do a better job of puck play.”
The highlight for the Wings in this game was Vrana’s beautiful goal in the second, cutting the Carolina lead to 2-1.
Vrana jumped onto the ice and swiped the puck from Hurricanes forward Sebastian Aho near the blue line, then skated down the slot.
With no Hurricanes near him, Vrana went to his backhand as Reimer was left to fend defenseless. Vrana casually flipped the puck over the goaltender for Vrana’s sixth goal with the Wings and 17th of the season.
“He can score, there’s no doubt he can score,” Blashill said. “What we’ll keep working on with him is just making sure he becomes that complete player that can score on a winning hockey team.
“There’s zero doubt he can score. He has real ability to score.”
After a scoreless first period the Hurricanes — who haven’t lost in regulation time in nine games (6-0-3) — broke free early in the second period.
Skjei opened the scoring at 4:40 of the second period. He jumped onto the ice and caught the trailing pass from Aho entering the zone. Skeji faked around one Wings defender and wristed a shot past Bernier for Skeji’s third goal.
After each team failed on a power play, the Hurricanes extended the lead to 2-0 on Foegele’s goal.
Foegele intercepted a pass from Troy Stecher, went hard to the net and was stopped by Bernier. But Foegele stayed with it, even with Wings defenders around him, got to the puck and put back the rebound for his 10th goal at the 13:29 mark.
Teravainen closed out the scoring after the Wings, again, gave away the puck in their own zone.
“We turned pucks over that we didn’t need to,” Blashill said.