Red and Black Hockey
by David Lee on 03/19/09 at 03:12 AM ET
The other day, I wrote about how the cutoff for the playoffs is likely to be 93 points and that Carolina would need to steal a couple of games down the stretch to get there. They did exactly that on Wednesday with an impressive 4-2 win over the visiting New Jersey Devils. Eric Staal and Sergei Samsonov each scored one and Anton Babchuk—the unlikeliest of all heroes—scored two power play marks to pace the Canes.
St. Marty got his big win on Tuesday night in Jersey, becoming the winningest goalie of all time. I figured that it would probably lead to a night off for him, and it did. Make no mistake, though. Carolina didn’t win the game because Kevin Weekes was in nets. In fact, Shady Eighty was really solid. Particularly in the first period. The Hurricanes took advantage of favorable matchups and a tired team who played an emotional game the previous night. They parlayed that into a great night for the power play units.
Carolina has now won six home games in a row and will have seven of their last ten games at the big ATM. This race will surely come down to the last day, but for now the Hurricanes are in the playoff bubble.
Carolina came out of the gates very strong and absolutely dominated play in the first frame. After ten minutes, the shots on goal were something like 11-2 in the Hurricanes favor. Kevin Weekes made a host of great saves early on, but Anton Babchuk was finally able to break the ice with a power play tap-in at 9:56. Although there was just the one power play in the first period, Carolina had the puck deep in the Devils’ end for the majority of the period.
Eric Staal cashed in on the Canes’ second power play opportunity by blistering a shot from below the right circle high on Weekes’ glove side at 1:25 of the second.
Zach Parise scored a five-on-three goal for the Devils at 13:22, giving the visitors some life. It looked as if the Hurricanes were going to kill off at least the front end of the two man disadvantage as Cam Ward made a series of good stops, but a puck pinballed in off Dennis Seidenberg’s skate and in. The goal was Parise’s 41st of the season.
Babchuk scored his second of the game and his eleventh of the season at 19:22 of the second for what would eventually prove to be the game winner. It was another power play goal, and this time it was one of his patented heavy shots from the right point.
At 12:14 of the final stanza, Sergei Samsonov scored a really pretty goal which was the only even strength goal of the night by either team. He took a pass from Jussi Jokinen, skated across the goal mouth from left to right and wristed one in as he was falling to the ice.
Brian Gionta was credited with a power play goal at 17:43 of the third when he tipped one in during a mad scramble in front of Cam Ward.
At the end of it all, it was actually the Devils who had more shots on goal. By far. New Jersey fired 43 shots at Cam Ward while the Hurricanes shot 32 at Weekes. Ward credited his defense for getting the white-shirted bodies out of his area, which allowed him to see everything in front of him.
This is one of the games that I expected Carolina to lose. Obviously, every win is important, but these two points are extra sweet because they were stolen. The rest of the East was idle, so Carolina was able only to add to point total. They now have 81, which is only three less than fourth place Philly, but only three points more than ninth place Florida. Florida has two games in hand on the Canes, and somehow the Flyers have three games in hand.
Carolina will continue their three-game home stand on Friday against the last place but suddenly surging Islanders.
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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.