by Kate Shefte
RBC CENTER/ RALEIGH— During a day full of outrageous upsets, it looked like the RBC Center inhabitant that might be going places this spring might fall prey to the _ New York Islanders. Though the Islanders have settled firmly into last place in the league, the team has gone 4-1-1 in its last six and has beaten the likes of Chicago, New Jersey, and Montreal. The Carolina Hurricanes looked as though they might be the next to join that list after a lethargic second period, but the second line of Ray Whitney, Matt Cullen and Chad LaRose took the team on its back. Two goals each from Cullen and LaRose and one from Tuomo Ruutu allowed the ‘Canes to narrowly get by the Islanders, 5-4, and turn their focus onto the Capitals tonight.
Carolina started the scoring early when Cullen scored 44 seconds in. Cullen took a home-run pass that was misplayed by Islanders goaltender Peter Mannino and fired it easily into an empty net. LaRose made the score 2-0 with just over a minute left with a goal-scorer’s goal. LaRose patiently skated all the around Mannino, waiting for him to go down and for the top of the net to open up, then easily roofed it. The game appeared to be headed in the ‘Canes’ direction.
However, that’s when things got interesting. The Hurricanes have been stellar in back-to-back games this season with a record of 16-8-2, but strangely they have performed far better during the back ends of those sets. The team is now 7-5-2 in the first half, in which they are usually well rested, and 10-3-0 on the second night. Against the Islanders, that complacency set in during the second period. The Islanders' Frans Nielsen, Richard Park, Bruno Gervais and Kyle Okposo scored four unanswered goals in the middle frame, three of which were even strength.
Tuomo Ruutu picked up a rebound after Erik Cole barreled into the net and created a three-car pile-up in front of Mannino at the end of the second to give the ‘Canes some life again. The call was “goal” on the ice, and the replay showed that Mannino was slowed up by a teammate and that Cole alleged contact was not enough to overturn the ruling. The ‘Canes returned to the locker room down a goal.
In one of the game’s weirder quirks, Cole seemed to be ready to take flight on another one of his high-speed drives to the net with a defender’s stick around his middle and the goaltender ducking for cover during the third, but he accidentally left the puck behind him at the left circle and his attempt never made it to lift-off. A few minutes later, Eric Staal tried the exact same move, and left the puck in almost the exact same place.
Cullen tipped a Rod Brind’Amour shot on the power play at 13:22 in the third and LaRose added his second after a New York defensive miscue left him and “The Wizard” alone to make a move on Mannino. A spinning LaRose took a gift of a pass from Whitney and scored his 16th of the season, the game winner. The ‘Canes received a lengthy 5-on-3 at the end of the third, but the team looked to be more concerned with escaping than humiliating the Islanders.
In the obligatory Staal blog shout-out, the ‘Canes center played in his 400th NHL game and registered nine shots on goal, but went without a point. Ray Whitney and Joe Corvo each tallied three assists in the win.
Cam Ward stopped 28 shots in his twentieth straight start, and poor back-up goaltender Michael Leighton must be hard-pressed to find a new style of hat to wear on the bench every night. Clearly Maurice and his coaching staff have adopted a do-or-die mentality that makes them weary of giving Ward a break even for a night, but there is a fine line between not taking risks down the stretch and riding your starting goaltender so hard that he gives out. Ward has taken to playing both ends of back-to-backers, which few goaltenders in the league do on a consistent basis; this is a credit to his conditioning. There’s a very good chance that he’ll be in tonight against Washington, but we’ll see.