by Kate Shefte
RBC CENTER/RALEIGH—Jussi Jokinen scored in regulation and the ‘Canes got further than they ever should have against the Tampa Bay Lightning Tuesday night, but Sergei Samsonov and Tuomo Ruutu sealed a last-minute win in the shootout to give Carolina its first win on the year, 2-1.
Tampa, which was blown out by perennial cellar-dweller Atlanta in its first go-around of the season, didn’t play above average – the ‘Canes just weren’t sharp. Horrible passing and untimely penalties were the name of the game, not to mention a startling lack of offense that has produced three goals in three games. This team could be good; it just needs to quit being so cutesy and make sure it has the puck before it starts rolling out the tricky moves, and before too many points in the standings are needlessly hemorrhaged away.
At the start of the game, Conboy went at it with Zenon Konopka, a long, dizzy fight with no advantage. Tuesday night’s sparse – but loud, have to give them credit – crowd liked it.
Jokinen walked in alone and put some moves on goaltender Mike Smith but the puck barely skittered past the goal line before it was swept away. Brind’Amour took a more direct approach and crashed the net and knocked it off its moorings, knocking the puck back in the process, causing referees to review the play. The goal was allowed and awarded to Jokinen, giving the ‘Canes their first lead of the young season.
His countryman, Joni Pitkanen, earned the primary assist in his first game back from injury. Cam Ward was given the other assist.
“I don’t know how that happened,” Ward joked. “I must be one of the leading scorers in the league.”
The referees kept their whistles close at hand early in the second period. Sergei Samsonov was whistled for a questionable interference call when it looked as though he had little to do with the play. Matt Cullen sat for hooking, giving the Lightning a lengthy five-on-three. With two seconds left in the first penalty, Ryan Malone batted a rebound off the crossbar into the net to tie the game.
There was one of those sadly infrequent and always enjoyable hockey head-scratchers after Smith took offense to a Stephane Yelle hit behind the net. After Yelle pinned him in a needlessly rough way up against the boards, Smith put him in a bear hug from behind and appeared to try and whisper sweet admonitions in his ear. It was such a strange big-brother moment that you almost expected Smith to take off his glove, give him a wet willie and give him a playful punch. Yelle looked a little confused. (That makes two of us, Stephane.)
Moments afterward, Pitkanen took an interference penalty and put an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on top. Staal went off on a tired-looking solo breakaway during the successful kill, which was turned away. Fans applauded the ‘Canes after a long, undermanned stretch.
The ‘Canes came knocking several more times late in the period but couldn’t seem to get the puck on their respective sticks. Matt Cullen set Chad LaRose up on a beautiful short-handed breakout and while they didn’t get a goal, they received a penalty call, which led to more shots but nothing with which to adorn the scoreboard.
Pitkanen left with a lower body injury and didn’t return for the third. Then there was this play midway through the third where a fumbled Staal pass bounced out to Ruutu, who overskated it, and then to Samsonov, who overskated it, then to Tampa Bay, who got the puck the heck outta there. It’s hard to believe the ‘Canes need to be advised to slow the heck down, but, well…
Neither team earned an advantage and the game slipped into overtime. Samsonov had another golden opportunity in front of the net a few seconds in and Tampa Bay took a smart penalty with 10 seconds left that didn’t leave the ‘Canes with any kind of advantage. Tampa Bay had a 4-2 edge in shots.
And then, there was a shootout. The dreaded shootout. If the ‘Canes couldn’t put together a good effort in regulation, why would they be any better in the shootout, where they have been pretty terrible overall over the past few years?
I tried and failed to make my shootout notes into a cohesive paragraph, so here’s the raw version:
Samsonov – gets Smith to sprawl, skates around for easy goal
St. Louis – brought out his bag of tricks and fakes, but Ward had an answer
Jokinen – Smith stopped with leg, same move as regulation goal
Lecavalier – beats Ward, hits post!
Ruutu – coast to coast, goal. Done.
Ward said converting first helped him on a personal level.
“I think it helped seeing Samsonov score that first goal,” Ward said. “It relaxed me.”
Even though the ‘Canes have a lot to work on, it’s hard not to be a little satisfied with this win, even though it never should have gotten this close against Tampa Bay. Having to grind it out for a win has got to be a better morale booster than scoring a fluky goal in the waning minutes and chalking it up to being the better team. Carolina was not the better team tonight, but thanks to some long-awaited shootout prowess, the team has its first win of the season.
“It was a big win to get our confidence going,” Jokinen said.
Florida, another beatable team on paper, is up next on Friday. This will be a big duh for anyone following the team, but the ‘Canes will have to find some offensive rhythm in order to get past the Cats.