RBC CENTER/ RALEIGH—What happens when you put two red-hot teams together on a sheet of ice? Apparently, they cool each other off. After two periods without a score, the Ottawa Senators finally got a goal and the Hurricanes answered twice en route to a 2-1 win.
Although they are well out of the top eight, the Senators came in having won five in a row and nine of 10. After a coaching change almost two months ago, they have not been the same team. However, the ‘Canes reminded them how to lose tonight when Rod Brind’Amour and Anton Babchuk tallied late in the third to edge the Sens.
Luke DeCock wrote a very complimentary column today in the N&O that all but said the Hurricanes were in the playoffs with seven games remaining. At the time, it seemed the teensiest bit premature, in my opinion, because we’ve all seen an assured berth fall apart in a big hurry. However, after tonight’s win – the Hurricanes’ fifth overall and franchise record-tying ninth in a row at home – and the Sabres mucking the bottom of the standings even more tonight with a win over the Panthers, it looks to be close to done. The players certainly think so; there’s a lot more scruff in the locker room these days.
“You don’t want to be fooled because of those games in hand, so you have to buckle down and keep playing the way that we have been,” Ward said.
It hasn’t happened often this season, but the ‘Canes caught an unlucky break early when they had a goal waved off. Ray Whitney worked hard to keep the puck in along the boards, then passed cross ice to Babchuk. The non-goal was set in motion by – surprise – another wicked Babchuk slapper. Jussi Jokinen was a little overzealous in his attempt to deflect the puck into the net, and the refs were onto his game. There was a distinct kicking motion, barely enough to move the ball in soccer but just enough to get a goal taken away in hockey. It would have been his second goal as a Hurricane.
It was a wide-open early, defensively sound game with very little action in the neutral zone and a few, uneventful rushes. As Cam Ward put it, it “wasn’t the most entertaining game” anyone had ever seen. The Sens took every chance they had to not only finish the ‘Canes in their own end, but dump them head over heels. Patrick Eaves and then Erik Cole were upset in front of the opposing net, with Cole performing a full flip Shawn Johnston would have been proud of.
The stretch of goalless harmony was almost interrupted when the ‘Canes left Gleason alone with two Sens right in front of the net. Gleason did a good job of stopping the play and Ward was there to clean up the mess.
The ‘Canes came close with five minutes remaining in the second. The Senators’ defense didn’t know where it was. Elliott didn’t know where it was either. Chad LaRose thought he knew where it was, but he was sadly mistaken. The game remained scoreless.
“When it’s a zero-zero game going into the third, we start forcing things and making plays that aren’t there,” Tuomo Ruutu said. “If we stick with the system, we’ll get scoring chances and we were lucky enough to convert on them tonight.”
In the third period, the flood gates finally opened. It didn’t take the Senators long to fry the goose egg when Babchuk got caught watching Nick Foligno behind the net and missed his man. Ward lost track of the rebound, which trickled through Babchuk’s legs, and Ryan Shannon buried the puck.
Not many make a big fuss of the brother-brother match-ups between Jarko and Tuomo Ruutu, probably because they aren’t as good of a warm, fuzzy story as the Staal brothers and because they have played against each other for a couple of years. Part of it is inevitably because they are European and because Jarko is widely despised along the east coast. However, the elder Ruutu caused a pivotal moment for the ‘Canes that led to a goal. A Jarko and Tim Conboy jawing match turned into penalties for both parties, and the ‘Canes scored on the four-on-four. Whitney shot the puck from the point and a spinning Brind’Amour found the rebound.
Babchuk made up for his earlier gaff with yet another beautiful goal on the power play. Babs came in from the point to the top of the right circle and quickly let a slapshot fly. An unscreened Elliot couldn’t see it, and it soared right by him stick side.
Tuomo Ruutu laid out Christoph Schubert near center ice and drew the admiration of the Carolina crowd. Schubert lay prone on the ice for several minutes and skated away. Ruutu (and the rest of his team, for that matter) isn’t known for open-ice hits like that, and the shock of potentially hurting his mark could have scared him away from doing it ever again.
The Senators’ top threesome of Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson were kept off the scoresheet, which Brind'Amour said was key in the win.
“We had to adjust, and they really didn’t do a lot,” Brind’Amour said. “You didn’t notice them much. If you can shut their top guys down, you’ve got a good chance to win.”
The Senators pulled Elliott but couldn’t put anything together, and the ‘Canes let the clock run out.
Ward needs to be put in a case study over the NHL’s summer break. The goaltender started No. 23 in a row and blocked 21 shots. One just has to worry that he won’t wear out before he gets a break, but he has shown no signs of mental weakness. The ‘Canes have more momentum than anyone in the NHL going down the stretch to the postseason, and that is nothing but encouraging. In an ideal world, they would clinch and rest a few of the worn-out guys…you know, just in case.