Red and Black Hockey
by David Lee on 01/13/10 at 01:56 AM ET
On Tuesday night, the Hurricanes did something they haven’t done since last season: they won a third consecutive game. Despite being outshot by a wide margin, Carolina doubled up the host Toronto Maple Leafs to the tune of 4-2. With the regulation win, the Canes move to within four points of fourteenth place in the East. There’s still a chance, albeit a very slim one, that the Canes could make the playoffs. At the very least, they have an excellent chance of finishing higher than 30th in the league.
With some stout goaltending by Cam Ward, some solid minutes from the “Rat Pack”, another strong outing by Eric Staal and some good special teams work, the Canes have their longest winning streak of the season. They’ve won three in a row and four of their last five. And the word on the street is that Chad LaRose could return to the lineup in Detroit on Thursday. And that Erik Cole is right behind him in the recovery room.
The Canes got off and running at 10:09 of the first with a power play goal by Eric Staal. It was his second goal in as many games and his tenth marker of the season. Jussi Jokinen and Joni Pitkänen got the helpers. Some lazy play in the neutral zone by the Leafs created a situation where Eric Staal was in the offensive zone with a lot of time and space. He made no mistake, beating Jonas Gustavsson.
Cam Ward’s rebound control has been really good lately, and this game wasn’t much different, but Lee Stempniak cashed in on a third-chance rebound at 16:52 of the first to tie the game. It stayed that way for the remainder of the period.
The Leafs took their first and only lead of the game in the first minute of the middle frame when Nikolai Kulemin pounded one in from the left circle. Phil Kessel, who has been a disappointment for Leafs fans, got the primary assist and Tyler Bozak also helped.
Brandon Sutter scored his eleventh of the season to knot the game up on a really hard-working play. The Leafs announcers raved about the play of Sutter, specifically on this play. He went to the dirty area, kept his stick on the ice and put himself in a position to knock one in from close range. Pitkänen and Jokinen were again the helpers. This one was also set up by a lazy play in the neutral zone by the Leafs. They allowed Tom Kostopoulos, who didn’t even have a stick in hand, to advance the puck through neutral ice and into the Toronto aone. Seconds later, the puck was in the net.
The second period ended 2-2, and the home team had a huge advantage of 25-12 in shots on net. It looked like all they needed was one break to open the game wide. Earlier in the season, this would be the point when Carolina would either fall apart or be on the wrong side of a crazy bounce.
Lately, though, those bounces haven’t been plaguing the Canes. Pucks are no longer caroming off stanchions and into the goal. The end wall hasn’t played a factor in a goal against in a while. Those shots that are hitting the pipe are staying out more frequently now. Nik Hagman had a shot clang off the left post, but couldn’t get it past Cam Ward. Before the next stoppage of play, Carolina took it down to the other end and took the lead for good.
Pat Dwyer got credit for a goal at 15:34 with a tip from the low slot. There were a lot of bodies in the area, and it was another case of a young player working hard to get to the dirty areas and getting the reward for it. Pitkänen and Jiří Tlustý, the former Leaf, got the assists on what proved to be the game winner.
The Leafs had a great chance to equalize the score when Ray Whitney was whistled for hooking at 16:51. However, the Leafs could barely keep the puck in the Carolina zone, let alone get any shots on goal. As Carolina easily cleared the zone time after time, the boos rained down in the ACC. Strangely, Ron Wilson didn’t pull the goaltender until there were 10 seconds left in the power play and 1:20 in the game.
Ray Whitney scored into the open net at 19:16, with assists coming from Eric Staal and Aaron Ward.
With just 10 goals this season, Staal has a long way to go and a short time to get there if he wants to continue his streak of seasons with 30+ goals. Still, though, his production has been okay. He’s got 30 (10/20) points in 33 games played, and has really turned it on since returning from the injury. In his last 20 games, he’s got 25 (7/18) points. In his last seven games, he’s got eleven (4/7) points. That clip, if he can keep it up, would put him at exactly 30 goals for the season.
With the next four games against teams outside of the playoff window, Carolina will have some chances to climb out of the Eastern cellar and start making a push. It’s a long haul, but a long winning streak would do a lot of things for the fans, the team and its playoff chances. On Thursday, the boys will be in Motown.
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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.