by Kate Shefte
“Today, I took over in net against the Carolina Hurricanes during the second period and tried to save my team’s dignity. I allowed six goals. One of them was a real beautiful deflection…off my own defenseman. FML.”
-The post that will mysteriously crop up on fmylife.com tomorrow morning
RBC CENTER/ RALEIGH—Eric Staal scored his fourth hat trick of the season and the ‘Canes put it in cruise control, scoring thrice in each period and four on the power play, en route to a 9-0 demoralization of the New York Islanders. All three of Staal’s goals were set up by his BFF, Erik Cole. Anton Babchuk had four assists and Dennis Seidenberg had three.
“I’m not sure our confidence could be any higher right now,” Seidenberg said.
Doug Weight, out of the line-up the last time these two teams played, was back to engage in more douchebaggery. However, Brandon Sutter was safely in Albany where Weight couldn’t get to him, so all was happy in Caniacland tonight.
This game was like a very one-sided practice scrimmage. Carolina took 57 shots on goal and allowed 12, scored left and right, took one minor penalty and allowed no goals. Cam Ward, whom I couldn’t believe was in net tonight, was given a break but notched a new franchise record with his 39th win of the season.
It turned out to tie the biggest goal differential at the RBC Center behind a 9-0 drubbing from the Atlanta Thrashers in 2005, after Carolina came off a nine-game winning streak. This time, though, the ‘Canes were on the other end and tied that franchise record with another nine-game winning streak.
“We’re playing like a well-oiled machine right now,” Staal said.
Seidenberg got things rolling with a long shot from the blue line. It may or may not have been tipped by Dwight Helminen.
After deciding it might be grand to silence some of his critics with his second 40-goal season, Staal scored his 37th of the season with ten minutes gone in the first. Staal skated leisurely up to the net, worked the puck on his stick for a minute, then easily sent a wrister past a defenseman and Yann Denis. Frank Kaberle, who was a healthy extra for all but one game in the month of March, was in the line-up because Joe Corvo had the flu and got the secondary assist.
Scott Walker struck with with less than 21 seconds remaining in the first period. Walker did almost exactly what Staal did, skating up the left circle and picking his spot. His first shot ricchocheted off a defenseman’s shin guard, but he collected the rebound and easily roofed it for his fifth of the season.
Denis was pulled in favor of Joey MacDonald for the second period, not that it helped much. Staal sacrificed a chunk out of his lip to give the ‘Canes a four-minute power play when he took a high stick right off the face-off in the second period. The ‘Canes held the puck in the Islanders end for almost the entire stretch, but couldn’t convert.
After the power play expired, Staal took the puck and said “look, guys…it’s like this.” Erik Cole gave him a bit of room to work in front of MacDonald and Staal edged his defenseman, then put a backhand past MacDonald. Staal doesn’t pull out those moves often any more, and when he does he’s often unsuccessful. Tonight, against an Islander team that seemed to allow him to do whatever he wanted, he was not to be stopped.
Meanwhile, someone forgot to tell Ward that this game didn’t matter. He made a sprawling windmill save on an Islander to keep the score at 4-0.
As the score kept climbing, you had to wonder if the game would start to get chippy. But this was an Islanders team that has been so thoroughly demoralized over the past two seasons and probably just wants to get out of this season with some semblance of dignity intact. A more polite ‘Canes squad might have stopped the goal hemorrhage, but when you keep handing a team power plays, it’s hard not to keep it going. Rod Brind’Amour roofed the puck on the power play right in front of MacDonald to make it 5-0.
Chad LaRose really wanted that 20th goal tonight and Mo gave him the ice time, but he couldn’t buy a break. He and Staal have two more games to hit their respective marks.
Staal completed his hat trick with 2 minutes remaining in the second. Cole took the puck in from the blueline and even though Tuomo Ruutu was waiting and he had a decent angle himself, Cole hit a trailing Staal and the hats rained down.
“I think we kind of made eye contact right when he got the puck, and he knew what I was doing and I knew what he was doing,” Staal said. “It was a nice play by Erik to get me open.”
After Rod Brind’Amour (legally) side-swiped Islanders goon Brandon Witt, he cross-checked Brindy to the ice. In Witt’s defense, Brind’Amour went down like a redwood. Chad LaRose took exception, but only Witt took a penalty, giving the ‘Canes a five-on-three. Tuomo Ruutu slipped a rebound under a sliding MacDonald.
The fight that had been threatening to happen since early on in the night finally occurred with 13 minutes left. Tim Conboy had his rear end handed to him by Joel Rechlicz and took Carolina’s first penalty, five for fighting.
New York hit a low point in the night when Islanders defenseman Bruno Gervais deflected the puck into his own net on the power play. Gervais was well out with his stick down and deflected an errant pass past MacDonald. The goal was credited to Frank Kaberle, his first of the season.
Ruutu scored again on the power play at the left of the net to make it 9-0. The crowd started to get mockingly greedy at that point, chanting “We want ten!” and “Double digits!”
Should the ‘Canes have thrown on the brakes at some point tonight? Probably. The NHL doesn’t have a mercy rule, though for games such as this, perhaps they should. Philadelphia won tonight, so home-ice advantage is still out of grasp for now. But instead of benching their big names and knocking back beers on the bench, impatiently waiting for the playoffs to start, the ‘Canes showed tonight that they want to keep with Mo’s philosophy and maintain momentum down the stretch. And if they have a little fun and embarass some teams in the process, well…apparently that’s all right too.
“We have three games left, and you have to keep playing within a system, because if you don’t it’s going to be tough to switch within the playoffs,” Ruutu said.