Colorado Avalanche goaltender Darcy Kuemper (35) blocks the shot of Carolina Hurricanes’ Jesperi Kotkaniemi (82) during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, March 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

RALEIGH, N.C. | The Colorado Avalanche and the Carolina Hurricanes spent most of three periods Thursday night playing to their status as two of the league’s top teams — even if they couldn’t manage to put a puck in the net.

It took a defenseman who hadn’t scored a goal since New Year’s Day to finally push the Hurricanes in front.

Ethan Bear scored with the game’s first goal with 5:40 left and Sebastian Aho added an empty-netter, lifting the Hurricanes past the Avalanche 2-0 in a matchup of the league’s leaders in points percentage.

In an even matchup, it took Bear being willing to fire a long shot, along with an apparent friendly bounce, to finally get one through Darcy Kuemper.

“You’ve just go to get it to the net and play it simple,” Bear said. “You get those lucky bounces every once in a while when you’re working hard and you’re playing the right way.”

In Bear’s case, the play started when teammate Jesper Fast won a battle along the boards for the puck after Kuemper had tried to clear it. The puck came Bear’s way from way out near the Avalanche bench, and he quickly fired a shot that possibly clipped the stick of Colorado’s Nazem Kadri for a slight change in direction to finally beat Kuemper.

As the Hurricanes celebrated, Kadri slammed his stick to the ice in frustration.

It was the breakthrough moment, one coming after the Hurricanes and Avalanche had failed to convert on a combined 68 shots to that point.

“That’s kind of how these games sometimes go,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “There was a lot of great quality opportunities both ways. Those weren’t going in. You kind of figured that could happen. It seems to work out that way sometimes. It’s good it was obviously for us.”

The Hurricanes added the clinching score after the Avalanche had pulled Kuemper with about 3 minutes left, with Aho stealing Gabriel Landeskog’s pass near center ice and skating in for the score with 1:32 left to seal this one.

Antti Raanta had 36 saves for his second shutout this season for the Hurricanes, who have won eight of 10. Carolina, which was second to Colorado by getting 74.1% of available points, has also earned points in 10 of 11 games.

Kuemper finished with 35 saves for the Avalanche, who entered with a league-best 87 points and have accumulated 75% of available points this season. Colorado has now lost four of five.

“I thought it was a well-played hockey game by both teams,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said. “Highly competitive, lots of pace, not a lot of room to move. That’s why the score was 0-0.”

SNAPPED

Colorado’s Cale Makar saw the end of his franchise-record 13-game assist streak, which stood as fifth-longest by a defenseman in NHL history.

SPEAKING HIS MIND

Landeskog took a 10-minute misconduct penalty in the final minute to cap this one.

“I guess T.J. didn’t like that I said he had a tough night, but that’s the way it is,” Landeskog said of referee T.J. Luxmore.

OPTIONS

This marked Raanta’s third straight start in net for Carolina, while the Hurricanes wait on No. 1 starter Frederik Andersen to return from an unspecified injury.

“Usually when you get a shutout, it’s a little bit luck also,” Raanta said. “You need to have options in front of you.”

Raanta had allowed two goals in wins against Pittsburgh and Seattle in the past week. Brind’Amour said earlier Thursday that Andersen — tied for second in the NHL with 29 wins — “isn’t quite 100%” but could play this weekend.

“For sure, that’s why we went out and did what we did this summer,” Brind’Amour said of the two goalies in their first year with the team.

TRADING BLOWS

Carolina spent the opening 10 minutes buzzing around Kuemper with quality chances, firing 12 of the first 13 shots in the game. But Colorado responded with a strong second period, taking a 17-6 edge in shots to put the pressure on Raanta instead.

Carolina finished with a 37-36 shot advantage.

HE SAID IT

“I thought a very entertaining game for no goals.” – Brind’Amour.

UP NEXT

Avalanche: Returns home to host Calgary on Sunday.

Hurricanes: Host Philadelphia on Saturday.

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