When the week began, Curtis McElhinney didn’t expect to be starting an NHL game Friday night, let alone emerging as the winning goalie in a game in Columbus, where he played as a backup for five seasons.
The 35-year-old McElhinney was waived by Toronto on Monday and scooped up by Carolina on Tuesday as a backup after starter Scott Darling was injured over the weekend. He started in the second leg of a back-to-back on Friday night, stopping 31 shots as the Hurricanes beat the Blue Jackets 3-1.
McElhinney was the primary backup to Sergei Bobrovsky in Columbus from 2013-17. Playing for the Maple Leafs last season, he lost to the Blue Jackets on three separate occasions.
“It’s a nice way to get a win,” he said. “I think they got the best of me when I was playing against them on Toronto, so it’s nice to come out here and make a good first impression with the club.”
Sebastian Aho and Micheal Ferland each had a goal and an assist, and Jordan Martinook also scored to help give Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour his first NHL win and ruin the home opener for the Blue Jackets.
McElhinney grabbed the puck after the final horn and handed it over to the rookie coach.
“He deserved it a lot more than I did,” said Brind’Amour, a former Carolina player who’s been an assistant coach for the past seven seasons. “I stood back there and yelled, and he was making all the saves. It was great that we were able to get him and he contributes like that.”
Columbus looked discombobulated at times against Carolina’s tough neutral-zone defense but made an aggressive push in the second period, only to have shot after shot turned away by McElhinney.
Brandon Dubinsky scored and Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 32 shots for the Blue Jackets.
“I think we were a little bit sloppy tonight, we just weren’t executing,” Columbus coach John Tortorella said. “But I’m also going to give Carolina a little bit of credit, how they checked.”
Martinook got it started 1:43 into the game when he rifled a shot over Bobrovsky’s glove from the slot off a nice feed from 18-year-old Andrei Svechnikov, the No. 2 pick in the June draft who picked up his first NHL point with the assist. Dubinsky tied it later in the first when he tipped in a rebound off McElhinney’s skate.
Aho chipped a shot up over Bobrovsky to give the Hurricanes a 2-1 lead 6 1/2 minutes into the second period. Later in the second, McElhinney made a critical save, swallowing up a point-blank shot from Josh Anderson on a breakaway.
Just after the Blue Jackets came up empty on their third power play of the night, Ferland found the back of the net with a one-timer from the slot 4 1/2 minutes into the third period. McElhinney shut down Columbus the rest of the way.
“It’s one of those things,” McElhinney said. “I’m always grateful for an opportunity to play any time in this league. For Carolina to give me that right now, it feels tremendous.”
NOTES: A quick whistle kept the Blue Jackets from tying the game in the second period. A referee whistled the play dead after a McElhinney stop, but the puck immediately popped out and Dubinsky put back the rebound. … The Blue Jackets are now 7-8-3 in home openers. … The Blue Jackets and Hurricanes are two of the youngest clubs in the NHL. The average age for both teams is 25. … Svechnikov got his first point after hitting the post twice in Carolina’s opening night overtime loss to the New York Islanders.
Carolina: Hosts the New York Rangers on Sunday.
Columbus: Hosts Colorado on Tuesday night.