by Kate Shefte
For the second straight game, Caniacs had to sit through an entire half a game before they were allowed to “Wooo!” with Ric Flair.
(Speaking of Ric Flair, the ‘Canes staff managed to wheel him in to sound the warning siren before tonight’s game.)
Gone were the 10 and 11-goal contests of Montreal vs. Carolina games past. The Hurricanes were forced to win a nail biter over their storied playoff rivals from the north. Cam Ward finished the night with 29 saves and the ‘Canes managed 48 shots on Carey Prince, their largest total of the season thus far.
Sergei Samsonov finally got the monkey off his back and scored his first goal of the season. Ray Whitney potted one of his own, which turned out to be the game-winner, midway through the third.
“It’s a bit of a relief,” Samsonov said. “Whenever you get into a slump, it’s more of a confidence thing than anything, and it was good to see that one go in.”
The only thing that could have made the night better would have been a breakthrough Eric Staal goal, or at least a point – not that the franchise center didn’t come very, very close. Everyone on the team is all about getting Staal out of this scoring slump, because as the past few seasons have shown, as goes Staal, so go the Hurricanes. Staal came within millimeters; his perfectly-placed shot glanced off the side of the post during the Canes’ first power play of the night. He then appeared to have shoved it behind Habs goaltender Carey Price seconds later, only to have the netminder spit it right back out. He later zoomed in with Sergei Samsonov on a 2-on-1, but Price got over in time to stop his wrister.
Although he didn’t score, Staal seemed to be back to his old self. He bounded onto the ice at the start of every shift, even though there were more than usual – far from benching his star player, Laviolette appeared to be double-shifting Staal at different points during the game, moving him back and forth between the “Slumpers” line (Samsonov and Staal) and various others. Staal looked to have recovered his signature lanky speed and reach, and finished the night plus-1 with two shots on goal and three missed shots.
A far cry from the ‘Canes’ recent three-game skid, the passes were crisper, the forecheck was stronger, the saves were few (the Hurricanes outshot the Canadiens 18-8 through the first period) and there were only a few uneventful odd-man rushes. However, Ryan Bayda took a roughing penalty with five seconds remaining in the first, and the Hurricanes could not kill off the power play that bled over into the second. Robert Lang scored to give the Habs a 1-0 edge.
The Hurricanes spent most of the next 20 minutes on the penalty kill as Patrick Eaves, Tuomo Ruutu, Joni Pitkanen, Niclas Wallin, and Rod Brind’Amour embarked on a steady procession to the penalty box. At one point, while killing a penalty, Wallin saved a shot with his chestpad, then batted it out of the air with a swing A-Rod would envy.
A Montreal player flattened Cam Ward but earned no call, and Pitkanen retaliated, giving the Habs a 5-on-3 for 23 seconds. Brandon Sutter picked off a pass and barreled in alone, coming very close to giving the Hurricanes their first short-handed goal of the season.
The Hurricanes did an excellent job of keeping it within one to close the period, in part due to some aggressive shot-blocking and stellar goaltending by Cam Ward. Sergei Samsonov scored off a Patrick Eaves centering pass three minutes into the third.
“That’s one guy off (a scoring slump),” Whitney said. “We have a couple of others that need to get off. Hopefully that helps him; I know he’s been trying to keep a positive attitude. The next one is to get the ‘big boy’ going.”
Whitney added the final tally at 6:33 on the power play, a fluky goal that Whitney “didn’t see” go in and didn’t react to until the goal light went off. After 48 shots on goal, however, one has to believe that a fluky goal like that will find the net.