RBC CENTER/ RALEIGH—The Carolina Hurricanes took advantage of a tired, Brodeur-less Devils team and cushioned themselves a bit in the standings. Carolina's special teams went to work and scored three power play goals, including two by defenseman Anton Babchuk. The 'Canes won the contest 4-2.
Those in attendance let out a collective, relieved exhale when they learned that Martin Brodeur, who took over first place in all-time NHL wins last night against Chicago, would be benched in favor of familiar face Kevin Weekes. Brodeur broke Patrick Roy’s record last night and became the winningest goaltender in league history.
“552 [wins] speaks for itself, so we’re glad he got the start last night,” Sergei Samsonov said of Brodeur.
Brodeur and his teammates decided to commemorate the event with a ceremony ACC fans know well; he took a pair of kitchen scissors and cut the net off the crossbars and base. It took several players and quite a bit of time – there’s a lot more surface area on that sucker than the one on a basketball hoop. Brodeur waved the detached net in the air and wore it like a cape.
Tyler Hansbrough, take notes.
Those who followed the ‘Canes when Kevin “Shady Eighty” Weeks was in net will remember that he was notoriously awful at controlling his rebounds. That habit benefited the Hurricanes when they struck first at 9:56 in the first period. A miserable power play was about to expire, but after Sergei Samsonov and Rod Brind’Amour swatted unsuccessfully at the puck right at the goal crease, Anton Babchuk joined the rush. Babchuk picked up the third rebound and buried it for his tenth of the season.
“He’s contributing offensively and defensively and reads the play and jumps to the offense,” Samsonov said of Babchuk. “He’s getting more comfortable.”
It's hard to imagine that a player who looked as though his NHL days were over just last year is making such a difference on this 'Canes squad. Babchuk has taken off down the stretch, scoring 12 of his 24 points in the 'Canes' last 15 games. He is second in defenseman scoring for Carolina and is plus-16 since the All-Star break, which the second best improvement in the NHL during that time frame.
After Gleason administered a legal hit on a Devil just as the whistle blew, veteran Brendon Shanahan was involved in a skirmish and somehow wound up with an interference penalty after it was all said and done.
Eric Staal struck again on the power play after the ‘Canes returned for the second period to make it 2-0. Staal snuck around the back of the net and took a pass from Tuomo Ruutu. He roofed the puck into a wide-open net, sending the water battle soaring across the ice. It was Staal’s 34th of the season and the other assist went to (go figure) Erik Cole.
That convenient lead was cut in half when Tim Gleason sent the puck over the glass and took a delay of game penalty four seconds into a Niclas Wallin cross-checking penalty. Cam slid way out of the net to meet Zach Parise, but the second-leading goal-scorer in the league deflected the puck behind him.
Babchuk struck again when he unleashed one of his reportedly 100 mph slapshots on the Devils’ penalty killing unit. He saved another hapless power play where it looked far more like the ‘Canes would allow a shortie than score themselves. The puck soared through traffic and cleanly past Weekes, who barely had time to lift his glove.
“There was good traffic in front and there were guys standing in front of the goaltender, so I just picked a corner,” Babchuk said.
The ‘Canes entered the third period with most of a power play remaining, and Ruutu was robbed of his chance to get on the scoreboard when his shot on a wide-open net hit a stick on the way over.
The ‘Canes relied on Ward to make that two-goal lead hold up in the third period. Ward stonewalled a shot after a defensive collapse that looked like it had set its course for the back of the net, then snatched a puck out of the air while doing the splits on the very next play.
Samsonov got a goal of his own with under eight minutes remaining in the third to put the game away. Samsonov set up the play himself, then swooped in from the boards in time to take a Jussi Jokinen pass. He skated around Weekes, who was already down, while being tripped up by a Devil. He did a swan-dive and landed on the ice and was slow to get to his feet, but pushed himself up after a short moment of face-first relaxation and celebrated with his linemates.
After that, the crowd got so bored that it decided to do the wave for amusement. That’s when you know it’s a done deal.
The Devils converted on a power play with two minutes remaining, which gave them a bit of life as the game wound down. The puck slipped past Ward’s pads and across the goal line, and though the ‘Canes’ goaltender swatted at it, but it was too late. The goal was credited to Brian Gionta.
“It’s hard to believe we only have ten [regular season] games left, If we play the way we did tonight during those last ten games, I like our chances, Ward said.”