by Kate Shefte
RBC CENTER/ RALEIGH—The Carolina Hurricanes came alive in the third period and took down a Rangers team, 4-2, that clearly had standings leapfrogging in mind. In front of a home crowd that was as loud as it has been for three years, the ‘Canes broke a franchise record with ten straight wins at home. It is their seventh win in a row overall.
Staal converted on the power play four and a half minutes in to start the scoring. With Erik Cole’s big behind planted squarely in front of Lundqvist, Staal tucked his shot from the point into the miniscule space between Lundqvist’s pad and the post.
The least-penalized team in the league certainly didn’t act like it in the first period. Hurricanes took four back-to-back penalties of their own immediately after Staal scored. The team had been off since Saturday, and as Ray Whitney put it, a few players may have been a bit overexcited.
“We were well-rested, maybe a little bit too much,” Whitney said. “We definitely had to sit Ruutu down and say, ‘hey, take a deep breath, big boy.’ When he gets his wires crossed he can really take some people down.”
Ruutu ran into Lundqvist in what was clearly a penalty, but the Rangers’ goaltender fell harmlessly onto his butt and hammed it up as though he’d been shot. Miraculously, after pulling the old “deep sea diver” routine (just kidding, I’ve actually never seen moves quite like that before) he felt well enough to continue with the game. Tim Gleason took an interference penalty just as that one expired, and just when the ‘Canes thought they were out of the woods, Ruutu went to the box again for boarding. The Hurricane penalty killers, who were certainly exhausted by this point, cleaned up shop and Cam Ward saw well through traffic.
“It’s easier to tone it down than it is to find the energy and tonight it was the case of us being to anxious, but again our goaltender bailed us out when we were not at our best,” Whitney said.
Scott Walker, returning after missing 11 games and playing in only his 38th game of the season, took a hi-sticking penalty just as the Ruutu penalty expired, but Carolina somehow managed to escape again.
The ‘Canes were being outshot 13-2 with two minutes remaining in the first and it looked as though they might escape with the lead, but Corey Potter scored his first NHL goal to tie it up. Joni Pitkanen hasn’t made many big boo-boos recently, but he should have received the primary assist on the Rangers’ goal for first blocking the shot and inadvertently passing it right to the Rangers out front, then screening Cam Ward with his 6’3 frame.
While his team was being out-shot 20-6, Chad LaRose gave the ‘Canes the lead again. LaRose rang one off the post then came back and picked up a Ray Whitney rebound less than a minute later.
It took them some time, but New York struck back. With Rod Brind’Amour in the box for ten more seconds, Dan Girardi let loose a quick snap shot and it found its way though traffic.
While in a pile-up in front of the net, Sean Avery sneakily tried to pull Ward’s helmet off and preferably take his head with it. Avery looked bewildered when the refs made the call and even tried to argue it. The penalty leaked over into the third, but the ‘Canes couldn’t do anything with the advantage.
The third period was a series of highlight reel goals that never happened. Carolina got too fancy early in the period and saw their attempts fail to develop or bounce harmlessly off of Lundqvist. The pace sped up but the game didn’t get chippy.
Chad LaRose cracked the game wide open at 12:25. Joni Pitkanen and Ray Whitney set up the play, nudging a quick pass to Jussi Jokinen, who was waiting at the right circle. Jokinen caught a streaking LaRose and he tapped it past Lundqvist from close in.
“I’ve had some ups and downs throughout the season, so it’s good to be rolling here toward the end,” LaRose said.
Just 28 seconds later, Rod Brind’Amour put it away. Brind’Amour threw a seemingly harmless shot on net from well out and was rewarded with his 15th of the season. It looked as though it glanced off Scott Walker and Walker certainly reacted as though he touched it on the way through, but it was ultimately credited to Brind’Amour.
This game helped the ‘Canes in what seems like their perpetual quest for standings breathing room. They have three more games at home which can be used to further their playoff dreams and perhaps set a home winning streak mark that no future team will easily break.