– by Lauren Foti
A Lot of Sports Talk senior reporter
RALEIGH, NC — It took 49 minutes for the game between the Carolina Hurricanes and Columbus Blue Jackets to produce its first goal. Once it went into overtime, it took it took until there were 31 seconds remaining in the extra session to produce the game winner. Both of those goals were scored by the same player, with Sonny Milano starting to make good on his potential the Blue Jackets saw in him three years ago.
The 2014 first-round pick and Long Island, NY native continued his strong start to his rookie season by scoring the opening goal of the game and a breakaway goal in overtime to lift the Blue Jackets to a 2-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes. Milano, playing in just his 10th career regular-season game, now has four goals on the season after the team’s first three contests.
Milano’s offensive talent was the driving force to him being selected 16th overall by the Blue Jackets in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, but his head coach, John Tortorella, is quick to overlook his offensive prowess to focus on his effort in playing two-way hockey first.
“Forget about offense,” Tortorella said after the game. “We knew that was coming. But [Milano] has really been consistent away from the puck, too. He had some coverages tonight in our zone that were really good, and he did a really good job on the wall protecting pucks and getting pucks out. That’s the most important part for this coach. And then he has free reign offensively.”
After a scoreless first 40 minutes, it was a goal from Milano at the 10:01 mark of the third which got the Blue Jackets on the board first, as Milano, while situated behind the goal line, banked in a shot off of the left pad of Hurricanes goalkeeper Scott Darling. The goal came against the run of play, as Carolina dominated the possession and face-off circle all game long up to that point, but found themselves down a goal.
“The guys played great,” said Darling, who stopped 25 of 27 shots for Carolina. “It’s always a low chance game…I wish I made that save. You can’t let a goal like that in.”
Carolina never let up on the pressure in Columbus’ offensive zone, and that pressure finally tolled in the final two minutes and after the Hurricanes pulled Darling for an extra attacker. A clearance attempt by Columbus forward Markus Hannikainen in his own end was knocked down by Carolina’s Jeff Skinner, who skated in on goal. His backhand past Jackets goalkeeper Sergei Bobrovsky tied the game at one with just 1:25 left in regulation.
Unlike Saturday night’s overtime game at PNC Arena, this game was settled within the five minutes of the extra session. Only 30 remained in the overtime when Milano, after Carolina spurned a 3-on-1 odd-man rush just seconds prior, skated in uncontested on Darling and beat him upstairs with a backhand to end the contest.
Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky was the main reason Columbus did not crack under Carolina’s pressure, making 37 saves.
“I thought it was times where we dictated and then there were times they dictated, and we were heavy in our zone,” said Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters. “I thought it was back and forth there. I thought it was pretty even throughout.”
Although the ‘Canes dropped this game to the Blue Jackets there were a lot of positives that came out of Tuesday’s home loss; Carolina won 61 percent of face-offs, with top-line center Jordan Staal and third-line center Derek Ryan winning 73 percent of face-offs each. Rookie defenseman Hadyn Fleury led the team with five hits.
“We got to get playing some games and get some rhythm of that, and that will happen when we get out on the trip,” said Peters.
The Carolina Hurricanes head out on their first road trip of the season, making stops in Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary and Dallas before returning home on Oct. 24.