Tuesday night, the Carolina Hurricanes saw their four-game winning streak end in a 4-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, the second meeting between the two teams in a span of a week.
Sebastian Aho had the Canes’ lone tally, while Alex Nedeljkovic made his NHL debut in net halfway through the contest.
“They won most of the individual battles, a lot of the puck battles,” head coach Bill Peters said. “Their puck support was there quicker than we were. I just thought we lost a lot of battles in all three zones.”
“I thought we played OK in the first period, but a couple tough goals,” Aho said. “We need to bring more speed and play faster.”
On Monday evening, the Hurricanes sent goaltender Michael Leighton to Charlotte and recalled Alex Nedeljkovic, his first call-up to the big show. Nedeljkovic hails from Parma, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, so his family made the trip to Columbus to see him dress in his first NHL game.
What was unexpected: Nedeljkovic making his NHL debut. Halfway through the second period, Nedeljkovic was summoned into the crease with the Hurricanes down 4-1.
“To be honest, I was a little anxious,” Nedeljkovic said. “Whatever level you’re playing at, if you’re backing up, you’re always ready to go just in case something happens. It was a lot of fun and pretty surreal. Unfortunately we couldn’t find our way back in the game.”
The 21-year-old rookie looked anything but, as he made 17 saves on 17 shots and staved off a seemingly relentless Columbus attack in the third period.
“I felt pretty good. It’s a lot easier when you get into a game and you get a lot of shots,” Nedeljkovic said. “They were putting pucks on net, and they had a lot of sustained pressure in our end. It made it easier to stay focused, stay in the game and find a rhythm.”
“He was good,” Peters said. “He came in, shut the door and gave us a chance to come back.”
Nedeljkovic even tallied two penalty minutes, as he was whistled for holding shortly after taking to the crease.
“It’s funny. Everyone was kind of joking around that I had to get on the scoresheet somehow. Getting a penalty, I guess, was the way to do it,” Nedeljkovic said. “Thankfully the guys were able to kill it off and save my butt there.”
Per Hurricanes Vice President of Communications and Team Services Mike Sundheim, this marks the first time the Hurricanes have used five goaltenders in a season (Cam Ward, Eddie Lack, Michael Leighton, Jorge Alves and Nedeljkovic) since 1997-98.
“I’m going to relish it and enjoy it,” Nedeljkovic said with a smile. “It was a lot of fun.”
Nedeljkovic is now the second Jets alum to play in the NHL after Steven Oleksy made his NHL debut during the 2012-13 season with the Washington Capitals.
Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper led the Jets to the 2002 Silver Cup National Championship before stints in the NAHL, USHL and AHL where he again won championships at each stop.