Hurricanes face tough task vs. Jackets

NHL Hockey
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Hurricanes face tough task vs. Jackets

With the Columbus Blue Jackets delivering shutouts in their past two games, it seems like it could be a tough assignment for the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night.

The teams will meet in Columbus, Ohio, where the Hurricanes will try to break through against Blue Jackets rookie goalie Elvis Merzlikins.

Adding to the urgency for Carolina will be that it didn’t score in its most recent game, a 2-0 loss at Washington on Monday.

Merzlikins notched a shutout of Vegas on the road Saturday and then returned home to stymie Boston on Tuesday night. Both scores were 3-0.

“I liked the way we played in all three zones,” Columbus coach John Tortorella said. “It’s one of our better games.”

Merzlikins is the second rookie in Blue Jackets history to register shutouts in consecutive appearances.

“It feels amazing,” Merzlikins said. “Thank you to teammates and everyone. … It’s a team shutout.”

Merzlikins, 25, said it has been important for him to take advantage of his opportunities, because he now is receiving regular work at goalie.

“I have to jump in right away and take my spot,” Merzlikins said.

Carolina’s past three games have ended in shutouts — two wins and a loss.

“We didn’t really ever get our game going,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said of the third time Carolina has been blanked this season. “I don’t know if we had a forward who had a good game.”

Tortorella said the key to the defensive performances for Columbus has come across the ice.

“A big part of our coverage was the middle of the ice and really grouping people in there,” Tortorella said.

The Hurricanes, who put together a 5-2-0 homestand before this week, might need an infusion of energy.

“It felt like we were a little gassed,” Brind’Amour said. “It might be that time of the year where it’s starts catching up to you.”

The Hurricanes have four more games before they go nine days without a game, with the All-Star Game during that stretch.

The Blue Jackets are 5-2-0 this month, and they could be getting stronger.

Columbus activated right winger Cam Atkinson off the injured-reserve list Wednesday. Atkinson missed 12 games with an ankle sprain after providing nine goals and 12 assists across his first 35 appearances for Columbus this season.

The Blue Jackets also called up goaltender Veini Vehvilainen from Cleveland of the American Hockey League. Defenseman Andrew Peeke, who was out for 13 games with a broken finger, also came off Columbus’ injured reserve, but he joined defenseman Gabriel Carlsson, goalie Matiss Kivlenieks and center Ryan MacInnis in being assigned to Cleveland.

With games Thursday and Friday, the Hurricanes likely will use both of their goalies, just like last week, when Petr Mrazek and James Reimer registered shutouts on consecutive nights.

Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin is set to play in his 350th consecutive game. That will make his string the second-longest in franchise history, breaking a tie with former team captain Eric Staal. Only Dave Tippett’s stretch of 419 games from 1984-89 (then with the Hartford Whalers) is longer.

Columbus defeated the Hurricanes twice by one goal in October, including once in overtime.

This is Carolina’s second and final road game of January. The team’s next five games will be at home.

–Field Level Media

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