Red and Black Hockey
by David Lee on 12/08/08 at 12:28 AM ET
On Sunday, the Hurricanes hosted the Southeast leading Capitals for a twilight matinee that was the back end of a back-to-back for each team. Carolina needed to win this game in regulation to avoid falling eight points behind the Caps. A regulation win is exactly what they got. Late goals by Eric Staal and Ray Whitney gave the black-clad Hurricanes a 3-1 win over their rival and the first win in the second reign of Chairman Mo.
For the first time in 13 games, the Canes scored first. Reason enough to celebrate. For the first time in six home games, they won. Even more reason.
Although the game ended well, it was not without a price. Anton Babchuk left the game midway through the third with what appeared to be a shoulder or chest injury. He will now join the ridiculously large group of injured defensemen that includes Frantisek Kaberle, Tim Gleason, Nic Wallin and Dennis Seidenberg. Brett Carson was just called up from Albany, but this almost certainly will necessitate the recall of another Albany rearguard.
Still, though, there was plenty of good to go around.
Ray Whitney led the way for the Canes with two goals. Michael Leighton stopped 38 of the 39 shots he faced, only allowing a power play blast by Nic Backstrom in the third frame. Everything that Leighton did wrong in his previous two starts, he did right this time. He was much better closing off the angles. He was much better controlling his rebounds. He did a great job waiting out Alexander Ovechkin on a penalty shot. Meanwhile, the defense, piecemeal though it was, did a great job keeping the Caps at bay.
Whitney started off the scoring at 13:18 of the first, pouncing on a rebound and sending it past the sprawling Jose Theodore. Later, we would find out that it was the first time in his career that Theodore had been scored upon by Whitney. Joni Pitkänen and Rod Brind’Amour got the helpers. With the goal, Whitney extended his points streak to three games.
While the Canes were on a power play late in the second period, Alex Ovechkin scampered in with a shorthanded breakaway, only to be dragged down by Pitkänen. The resultant penalty shot wasn’t exactly straight out of Ovie’s book. He went really wide left, then came back in and slowly faked, faked, faked, then at the very last second took a shot that Leighton handled. It showed remarkable patience by the goaltender not to bite on any of Ovechkin’s moves.
It looked like the Leighton and the Canes might get a shutout, but they got a little undisciplined, leading to a long five-on-three sequence for the Caps. Just as the front end of that expired, Nic Backstrom connected with a bomb from the right circle for a power play goal, assisted by Ovechkin and Theodore.
As is their MO these days, the Hurricanes really came to life as the third period was winding down. Eric Staal converted off a turnover to put the Canes up for good at 15:51. Defenseman Sami Lepisto coughed up the puck behind the Caps net, Sergei Samsonov fed Staal, and Staal tucked in in, just inside the left post. This broke a six game goalless streak during which he has registered just two assists.
Staal now has 299 (133/166) points in his career, and we’re all hoping that 300 will be one of many milestones in a Hurricanes sweater. He will need 16 points to overtake Sami Kapanen for fourth place in Hurricanes (not including Hartford) history. Kapanen had 314 (127/187) in 440 games played for the Hurricanes.
With the assist, Samsonov also extended a points mini-streak to three games. He got off to a rough start, but has now registered eight (3/5) points in his last ten games.
At 17:58, Ray Whitney got his second of the game and his ninth of the season at 17:58 when he pounced on a loose puck in the low slot, firing it past the hopeless goaltender for a 3-1 lead. Patrick Eaves and Tim Conboy got helpers.
Rod Brind’Amour, who has had a horrible season statistically, finished with 16 of 20 faceoffs won, one assist, and for the first time in quite a while, he had a +2 rating.
Defenseman Brett Carson, who was an emergency call-up today, did well in his NHL debut. He had 22 minutes of ice time, two hits and two blocked shots. He actually led all players with 4:07 of PK time.
Scott Walker, returning from injury, was used sparingly, getting just 6:36 of ice time.
After playing three games in four nights, the Hurricanes will be off until Thursday, when they conclude the season series at Philadelphia. Although it is a road game, Carolina will be wearing their alternate blacks on Thursday, and also on Saturday at the Rangers. Three games in a row in the blacks. Crazy.
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About Red and Black Hockey
David Lee is a restaurant manager with an unused degree in political science. He can be found at Carolina Hurricanes games, Scrabble tournaments and indie-rock shows. Sometimes, all in the same day.