Red and Black Hockey
by David Lee on 03/19/11 at 08:57 AM ET
On Friday night, the Hurricanes had to come from behind to beat the Islanders 3-2 in overtime. That gives them 76 standings points, and crucially, 29 “Regulation or Overtime Wins”. They are now tied with Buffalo in standings points and ROW, but the Sabres have two games in hand. Carolina is idle until Tuesday, when they will host the last place Senators. This weekend, the Sabres have home games against Atlanta and Nashville. The Canes players and fans are hoping that the Sabres lose both games in regulation. Carolina, by virtue of earning more points versus the Sabres (four) than the Sabres have earned against the Canes (three) would have the tiebreaker and would jump back into eighth place.
After the Senators game, the Canes have a back-to-back home-and-home with the Lightning, a road game in DC and a home game against the Habs. During that same stretch,the Sabres will play at Montréal, back-to-back home games against Florida and New Jersey and finally at Toronto. That stretch certainly plays in the Sabres favor, so the Canes will have to steal some points.
Once again, Cam Ward was great, and for the first time in a while, the Hurricanes showed some fight. When they were pushed against the ropes, down a goal late in the third, they answered back, forced overtime, and won it the way they needed to—during timed play.
Jeff Skinner scored at 16:33 of the first on a really pretty connect-the-dots type of play where he found himself all alone in front of the net. All he had to do was tap in a centering pass from Jussi Jokinen, who drew two Islanders defenders and the goaltender to the right wing side. Tuomo Ruutu got the secondary assist.
In typical Canes fashion, they didn’t allow themselves to enjoy the lead very long as the Isles knotted it up at 17:52 on a Frans Nielsen goal.
Twice in the first period, Cam Ward stymied rookie Michael Grabner on breakaway situations. Unfortunately, Grabner finally beat him at 3:10 of the second. It was one of those plays where after a faceoff deep in the Carolina zone, Joni Pitkanen wandered into Joni-land, losing his man. The Carolina defenseman was just floating around, being the bad Joni, the Joni that reminds us of Avi Tanabe. So Grabner was able to easily get to a free puck beneath the right circle and fire it past Ward for the go-ahead goal.
For the rest of the second and the majority of the third, the score remained 2-1 Islanders. Carolina had a couple of power plays and they had a couple of short-handed scoring opportunities, but nothing bore fruit. But at 15:23 of the third, Erik Cole cashed in on a play where the Canes unit was working really hard. Cory Stillman, from behind the net, was patient in setting up Cole for the equalizing goal. He had the only assist.
On to overtime, where the Canes knew that they needed to win the game. A shootout win would still get them two points, but in the interest of tiebreaker scenarios, they needed to avoid that. And obviously, one point wasn’t going to cut the mustard.
As the overtime period wound down, Jeff Skinner was hustling to get to a puck on a play that might have been icing. It never made the line, so that didn’t matter, but Skinner’s hustle made things difficult for the Islanders to clear the puck out of their own zone. After a turnover, Skinner ended up with the primary assist on the game-winning goal. He made a crisp pass to Pitkanen. From above the left circle, Joni wound up and blasted a slapper past Al Montoya for the winner at 3:58 of the bonus frame. Eric Staal had the secondary assist.
And now, Carolina can do nothing but watch the Sabres on teevee.
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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.