Red and Black Hockey
by David Lee on 11/20/09 at 12:56 AM ET
On Thursday night, the Hurricanes hosted the Maple Leafs with a good chance to stretch their points streak to four games. Although things didn’t go well early on, they battled back. Although they gave up a would-be game winning goal with 30 seconds remaining in the third, they never gave up. Erik Cole scored with two seconds remaining, and then the Finns took care of business in the shootout. Carolina emerged with a gutsy 6-5 win and they have crawled out of the Eastern conference cellar. Baby steps.
The Canes spotted the Leafs one goal, allwing Matt Stajan to score on the Leafs second shot of the game at 1:01 of the first. Lee Stempniak added one at 14:21 and Mikail Grabovski another at 18:26. Things, seemingly, were about to fall apart. However, as they have done repeatedly this month, they refused to let a two or three goal deficit cancel their will to compete. Instead of folding like a rented futon, they displayed a little sisu and fought back. And won.
Even as the second period wore on, the Canes never counted themselves out. And at 16:47 of the second act, they got their first lucky break of the season. A loose puck sat in the low slot in front of Jonas Gustavsson for what seemed like an eternity. Everyone was tied up and in a pile, so it just laid there. Out of nowhere, Stephane Yelle dove on the puck, poking it into the empty net.
43 seconds later, Matt Cullen jammed one in, with assists from the Finnish Connection of Tuomo Ruutu and Jussi Jokinen. Just like that, it became a game.
Early in the third, Erik Cole and Ian White fought and Cole took an extra minor penalty. Seventeen seconds into the ensuing power play, the Laefs stretched their lead back to two when Alex Ponikarovsky notched his eighth goal of the season at 3:43 of the third. And still, the Canes didn’t give up.
Tim Gleason bombed one in from the right point at 8:08, assisted by Cullen and Ruutu. This was his third goal of the season, after he scored zero in the regular season last year.
Ian White took a double minor for high sticking Tom Kostopoulos at 8:51, and things got really interesting. Carolina failed to score on the front end of the double minor, but finally managed to cash in at 11:56. From the bottom of the right circle, Brandon Sutter made an unbelievable pass to Gleason, who had crept into the low slot undetected. He snapped it past The Monster, and suddenly it was a tie game. Tuomo Ruutu picked up the secondary assist, his third of the night.
And as the third period wound down, it looked like Carolina was going to go to the overtime session for the fourth game in a row. The Leafs had other plans, though. Ian White finished an odd-man rush and beat Manny Legace glove side at 19:30. For a brief moment, it looked like Legace may have been injured as there was a bevy of bodies in the crease, but he was fine.
Now, it looked like the Canes had given a point away. However, they still refused to die. Paul Maurice called his timeout, and whatever he said, it was brilliant. Canes fans remember well the heroics of last spring, and the boys finally showed some of that sisu that they had in spades back in May.
With Legace pulled for an extra attacker, the Canes flooded the left side of the Toronto zone, and after some frantic seconds, Erik Cole snapped a loose puck just inside the right post to equalize the score with just two seconds showing on the clock. Remember Eric Staal’s overtime-forcing goal with three seconds left in game two of the 2006 Eastern semis? Remember Jussi Jokinen’s heroic game winner with less than a second left in game four of the 2009 Eastern quarters? Remember the Miracle at Molson in the 2002 Eastern semis? Okay, this wasn’t as big, but it showed that this team is capable of believing in itself and capable of pulling itself up instead of laying down.
The assists on the game-tying goal went to Ruutu and Joe Corvo. That’s four assists for Ruutu, and he wasn’t done yet!
Carolina opted to go first in the shootout, and they sent the normal lineup out there. Tuomo Ruutu went first, deked a bunch and beat the Swede high stick side.
Legace turned aside Phil Kessel, and Jussi Jokinen pulled one of his favorite tricks out of the bag. He came in with speed, slammed on the brakes in the low slot, then fired the forehand wrister high glove. Legace turned aside Lee Stempniak, and the third round of the shootout wasn’t needed. Finns 2- Swede 0.
Tuomo Ruutu, who had four assists, seven hits and the game-deciding “goal” would have been the #1 star if I had been doling them out, but he got the second star. With two goals, Tim Gleason was given the first star. Erik Cole, whose second marker of the season forced overtime, got the third star.
I’ll say it for the millionth time. Brandon Sutter was great. He led all forwards with 23:26 of ice time, and looked just as fresh at the end of the game as at the beginning. His pass to set up the second Gleason goal was simple but beautiful. And it demonstrated his high hockey IQ. This is not a play that your typical second-year player makes. Even when EStaal comes back, I think Suttsy is going to remain in the top six. He certainly deserves it.
Carolina will have a chance to extend this points streak on Saturday, when the Bolts come to town.
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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.