The Carolina Hurricanes and Columbus Blue Jackets have played their current four-game series about as evenly as it can through an odd number of contests.
Through three straight meetings, each club has earned four points — Carolina lost twice in extra time at home but blanked the Blue Jackets 3-0 in Columbus on Monday behind goalie Alex Nedeljkovic, who has won five of his last six starts (5-0-1).
In Columbus on Thursday, the Central Division foes meet for the fourth consecutive time and seventh time overall.
The teams have split the previous six meetings, with the final match on May 1 in Raleigh, N.C.
The four points over three games have helped Carolina rebound from a 4-2 loss to Detroit last Tuesday and solidify its spot inside the top three in the Central.
Defenseman Dougie Hamilton extended his point streak to 12 games on Monday.
However, much of the victory’s credit goes to Nedeljkovic, who has excelled in his backup role to James Reimer after Petr Mrazek required surgery on his right thumb following an injury on Jan. 30.
The 25-year-old Nedeljkovic — a native of Parma, Ohio, just a couple of hours north of Columbus — had relatives in Nationwide Arena on Monday for his second career shutout.
“I don’t know if you can ever top that first (one),” Nedeljkovic said of his 4-0 win over Tampa Bay on Feb. 20. “The first one only happens once. I don’t know if that’s the right way to say it, but yeah, I had family in the stands tonight. So it was nice for them to actually be here.”
Nedeljkovic moved to 7-2-2 this season with Monday’s victory and improved to 1.96 in goals-against average and .930 in save percentage. He tied the Minnesota Wild’s Kaapo Kahkonen and New York Islanders’ Ilya Sorokin for the most shutouts by a rookie this season.
The Hurricanes/Whalers’ organizational rookie mark of four is held by goalie Peter Sidorkiewicz, who did it during the 1988-89 campaign.
Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella had watched his team play better hockey since a 5-4 loss in overtime to the Florida Panthers on March 11.
Before Nedeljkovic worked Monday’s third shutout against the Blue Jackets, the group put together a five-game point stretch of 3-0-2 to inch back toward the fourth and final playoff spot in the division.
However, Tortorella wasn’t up for talking about much afterward. He fielded just three questions from the media in a postgame interview that lasted fewer than 90 seconds.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about energy and killing penalties,” Tortorella replied when asked if his team built off its successful penalty-kill effort. “It didn’t allow us to get into flow, the penalties we took.
“You can ask me 10 different questions about it and what happened, but they checked tonight, and we couldn’t get through it.”
Via social media Wednesday morning, the Blue Jackets announced that goalie Elvis Merzlikins wouldn’t practice due to an illness not related to COVID-19 — likely turning over the netminding duties Thursday to Joonas Korpisalo.
The 26-year-old Korpisalo (8-10-5, 2.98 goals against, .900 save percentage this season) is 2-3-0 in five starts against Carolina with a 3.84 goals-against average and .862 save percentage in the 2020-21 campaign.
–Field Level Media