Alex Nedeljkovic made 24 saves for his third career shutout, all in his last 12 games, and Vincent Trocheck scored another goal against his former team as the Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Florida Panthers 3-0 on Thursday night.
Sebastian Aho and Martin Necas also scored for Carolina, which swept a two-game set from the Panthers to move ahead of Florida in the closely contested Central Division.
“All these games are really important right now,” Trocheck said. “It’s going to be a really hard-fought battle to the end to try to secure first placed with them and Tampa (Bay). To win both against them these last few days is really big.”
Chris Driedger made 19 saves for the Panthers, who were shut out for the third time this season.
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Nedeljkovic made 10 of his saves in the third period.
“That’s what goaltending does for you,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “You need those saves at the right time and he did (that).”
Aho scored on a first-period power play just 7 seconds after Matt Kiersted’s hooking penalty. Trocheck sent a pass through the slot and Aho launched a shot without resistance.
Trocheck’s goal came in the second period when the puck was airborne above Driedger and the Panthers couldn’t get control of it before it trickled into the net.
“Did you see the goal?” Trocheck said. “It looked pretty lucky.”
Trocheck, traded from the Panthers less than 15 months ago, has scored one goal in each of Carolina’s six games against Florida this season.
The Hurricanes have posted shutouts in two of their past three games. Petr Mrazek had the other.
The goalie mix also includes James Reimer, who has a team-high 14 wins this season. Nedeljkovic and Mrazek have combined for 13.
“That’s the biggest thing right now is just getting wins,” Nedeljkovic said.
Florida went 0 for 4 on power plays.
“We didn’t get anything off the power play to get some excitement in our game,” Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. “We tried, but we weren’t very good.”
Necas had an empty-net goal.
The Hurricanes are 5-0-1 against the Panthers this season.
“Bounces weren’t going our way,” Panthers center Frank Vatrano said. “We weren’t getting enough chances. We weren’t getting enough bodies in front of the net.”
Aho has become a consistent scorer for the Hurricanes. His goal pushed him to 300 career points in 349 career games.
Since the franchise relocated from Connecticut almost 25 years ago, only two Carolina players – former forwards Ray Whitney and Cory Stillman – have more points per game than Aho.
This year, Aho and Trocheck share the team lead with 16 goals apiece.
IN THE MARKET
The Panthers entered the trade market earlier Thursday, acquiring defenseman Lucas Carlsson and forward Lucas Wallmark from the Chicago Blackhawks.
Wallmark made his NHL debut as a Carolina player. Last season, he played for the Panthers after a trade from the Hurricanes.
“It gives us depth in the middle,” Quenneville said. “It gives us a penalty killer. I think he’s a smart player.”
The Panthers sent forward Brett Connolly and defenseman Riley Stillman to Chicago along with restricted free-agent rights to forward Henrik Borgstrom and a 2021 seventh-ranked draft pick.
Stillman had played in the past seven games for the Panthers. Connolly had been a scratch for the last three games while he was with the organization.
The three times the Panthers have been blanked this season, the final score has been 3-0 in each case.
Quenneville said the scoring chances weren’t strong enough in the latest loss.
“The quality was low end from what we were expecting,” Quenneville said.
Panthers: Travel to Dallas for games Saturday and Tuesday.
Hurricanes: Play on Saturday and Monday at home vs. Detroit.