RALEIGH, N.C. — The Chicago Blackhawks were eliminated from Stanley Cup Playoff contention with a 5-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena on Monday.
Sebastian Aho scored a hat trick, and Dougie Hamilton had a goal and an assist for the Hurricanes (35-10-7), who extended their point streak to 11 games (8-0-3) with their fourth straight win. Alex Nedeljkovic made 15 saves and is 7-0-1 in his past eight starts.
“It would be easy to just let off the gas,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “I give the guys credit because these last three games, it hasn’t been picture-perfect, but they certainly haven’t come off the gas at all. That’s on those guys. They’re doing a great job.”
Carolina is two points ahead of the Florida Panthers for first place in the eight-team Discover Central Division with two games in hand. Florida defeated the Dallas Stars 5-4 in overtime Monday. The Hurricanes, Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning each have qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the division with one berth remaining.
Ian Mitchell and Alex DeBrincat scored for the Blackhawks (22-24-6), who have lost five straight. Malcolm Subban allowed four goals on 18 shots before being replaced 9:52 into the second period by Collin Delia, who made 19 saves.
“Obviously not the spot we want to be in with four games left,” DeBrincat said. “We had a good stretch in the middle of the season, but you have to play the full season. It’s tough, but these next four games, we’re still building for something in the future. We’ve still got to play hard.”
Hamilton scored his 10th of the season to put the Hurricanes up 1-0 at 6:33 of the first period when his shot from behind the goal line in the right corner deflected off Subban’s stick and right skate.
Carolina went up 2-0 when Martin Necas‘ shot from the center point hit the left post and deflected off Subban’s right pad at 13:34.
“We were definitely clicking early,” Hurricanes forward Vincent Trocheck said. “I think it was just a matter of coming out ready and making sure those first 10 minutes were ours and getting a lead early.”
Aho’s team-leading 22nd goal made it 3-0. Andrei Svechnikov led a 2-on-1 and slipped a pass to Aho driving the net for a one-timer at 4:42 of the second period.
“As soon as I looked up I saw [Svechnikov] coming 100 mph towards me and I just readjusted my route and went with him,” Aho said. “He puts his shoulder down and beats his guy 1-on-1 and makes an awesome pass to me back door.”
Aho extended the lead to 4-0 at 9:52 when he was left alone at the net and redirected a pass from Hamilton on a power play.
Mitchell cut it to 4-1 when he one-timed Dylan Strome‘s pass from behind the net at 18:35.
DeBrincat skated up the left side boards before cutting to the net and scoring on the forehand at 14:38 of the third period to make 4-2.
Aho completed the hat trick, scoring into an empty net at 18:44 for the 5-2 final. He has scored 15 points (six goals, nine assists) in an eight-game point streak.
Delia’s relief appearance was his first NHL game since starting back-to-back 5-2 losses to the Lightning (Jan. 15) and Panthers (Jan. 17).
“It’s been challenging, but you’ve got to be thankful for the opportunity to even be in this situation to begin with,” Delia said. “I’m very thankful to be a part of the organization and I’m thankful to compete and work with some amazing individuals every day.”
The Blackhawks play the Hurricanes here Tuesday and Thursday before ending the season with two games against the Dallas Stars.
“We have to get better, we have to keep improving,” Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton said. “We have a bunch of first- and second-year guys, even third- or fourth-year guys; we’re trying to learn as a group how to play to have success and be at the top and compete against teams like Carolina. We have to use these games as an opportunity to get better.”
NOTES: Chicago had 17 shots, its third-lowest total this season. … DeBrincat has scored in each of the past three games. … Blackhawks forward Dominik Kubalik had two assists to extend his point streak to four games (two goals, three assists). … Hamilton is the fourth active defenseman to score at least 10 goals in seven straight seasons. Brent Burns (San Jose Sharks), Roman Josi (Nashville Predators) and Victor Hedman (Lightning) each did it from 2013-20. … Aho had a season-high nine shots on goal. … Svechnikov has six assists in a four-game point streak. … Carolina forward Jesper Fast had an assist playing 13:33 after missing five games with a lower-body injury.