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PREVIEW: Carolina Hurricanes look to strike Lightning in key 2-game set

Mar 18, 2021; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA;  Carolina Hurricanes right wing Sebastian Aho (20) celebrates his second period goal with center Martin Necas (88) against the Columbus Blue Jackets at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 18, 2021; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Hurricanes right wing Sebastian Aho (20) celebrates his second period goal with center Martin Necas (88) against the Columbus Blue Jackets at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

After almost letting a win get away from them Thursday in Columbus, the Carolina Hurricanes turned to their youth to wrap up a successful trip to Ohio’s capital.

Carolina’s dynamic young forwards Martin Necas and Sebastian Aho played a two-man game in the overtime session as they have a number of times this season to sweep the two road contests against the Blue Jackets.

Aho finished off Carolina’s seventh meeting with Columbus — winding up a four-game home-and-home series between the clubs — by netting the game-winning goal on a heads-up pass from Necas for the victory, which moved the Hurricanes to within three points of the first-place Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Central Division’s top two teams will play for the sixth time Saturday night in Raleigh, N.C., and a regulation win would leave Carolina one point behind the Lightning with one game in hand.

In overtime, Necas’ defensive deflection led to a breakaway for the 22-year-old flashy forward, who flipped a pass back to Aho — securing the win and pushing the Hurricanes to 4-1-2 against Columbus and 9-1-2 in March.

Necas also scored his seventh goal for a 2-1 lead on a clever play around the net, and the visitors led 3-2 in the final minute. However, with the Columbus crease vacant and an extra skater on, the Blue Jackets tied it with 15.1 seconds left to bring on overtime.

“There’s only one option — you go there (in OT) and try to end the game with a goal,” said Aho, who has four goals and four assists in seven games against Columbus. “The more aggressive teams win most of the games. I know there’s (Necas) and Dougie (Hamilton) with me out there, so I’m with great players.”

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Hamilton assisted on Necas’ marker, pushing the defenseman’s club-record point streak to 13 games and tying Toronto’s Auston Matthews for the NHL’s longest in the 2020-21 season.

Uncharacteristically, the Lightning let a two-goal lead slip away from them Thursday night as the Stars won when Roope Hintz netted the game-winning tally on a breakaway with 1:21 remaining.

Tampa Bay’s 4-3 loss snapped goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy’s franchise-record, 12-game winning streak and handed the Lightning their first defeat against Dallas in five meetings.

“We put ourselves in a position to get a point; it didn’t happen,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “We’ve just got to be a little bit mentally sharper, but with a bunch of games, it’s bound to happen once.”

The Lightning played short-handed on the back end as Ryan McDonagh and Erik Cernak were out with injuries. Rookies Cal Foote and Andreas Borgman slotted into their spots.

Said Foote, who played a career-high 23:52: “We still have our six guys (on defense). It shouldn’t be an excuse for a team.”

Tampa Bay’s 12-game point streak against Dallas was also broken, and they Lightning failed in their bid to compile a six-game winning streak for the third time this season.

After being held off the scoreboard by Carolina goalies Petr Mrazek and Alex Nedeljkovic in the first two matches this season, the Lightning won three consecutive games vs. the Hurricanes from Feb. 22-25.

Behind Vasilevskiy’s 25-save blanking on Feb. 24 — the only time the Hurricanes have been held scoreless — three of the victories for the two sides have come by shutouts.

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–Field Level Media