RBC CENTER/RALEIGH - The Carolina Hurricanes won an ugly one tonight at home, downing the Toronto Maple Leafs, 6-5, after trailing 3-0, 4-2 and 5-4. The team allowed its 11th three-goal first period of the season, and yet somehow crawled back from that deficit for the second time off a two-goal effort from Tim Gleason and a Hail Mary goal from Erik Cole.
“In the past, we just shut it down, game over,” Gleason said. “That was the difference tonight. We showed confidence and character at the end.”
There’s no overlooking the fact that the ‘Canes played a horrible game and almost to the co-worst team in the league at home. This team has been completely demolished by injury and has played like it. They literally have no one – not even their backup goaltender, after Michael Leighton repulled his groin against Montreal. Albany call up Justin Peters had door-opening duties on the bench tonight.
On the second shift of the game, just 1:01 in, the ‘Canes were caught flat-footed in front of the net. Matt Stajan picked up a Joe Corvo turnover and drove it past Manny Legace. Not even a spiffy new helmet paint job could help the ‘Canes goalie on that one. Legace has gone from hockey homelessness to starting NHL-er for a desperate Carolina team in a matter of weeks, though, so at least he has that going for him.
The Leafs scored another easy one with under six minutes left in the first. Lee Stempniak scored five hole from well out on Legace, who came too far out of the net to meet him. He looked to have given up before the shot was even fired.
Mikhail Grabovski scored his fourth of the season when he planted himself in front of the back door and waited for the puck to inevitably pop to him after the ‘Canes couldn’t clear the zone. That could possibly be the easiest one he’ll score in his career. The ‘Canes were roundly booed off the ice as they went back after the first period.
It was the 11th time this year the ‘Canes have allowed three goals in the first period. That’s over half the games they’ve played so far. There’s one of those stats that just makes you step back and say….wow.
The first fight the ‘Canes have had in several weeks took place shortly afterward, but it was nothing to write home about. Often, it seems the ‘Canes can’t do anything right this season, and that includes fighting. After a few jabs at Tom K-Something’s head, Jamal Mayers dropped him easily. The whole thing lasted no longer than 10 seconds.
Ten minutes later, the puck sat tantaliziningly uncovered in the crease and the referees wisely didn’t blow it dead. Just as the Toronto defenders realized Jonas Gustavsson didn’t have it, Stephane Yelle came flying through the air and scored his first with the Hurricanes.
Matt Cullen picked up a puck near the same spot and threw it into the top of the net. He put his arms up and yelled like he’d just served the game winning ace at Wimbleton. Just like that, the ‘Canes were back in it.
“We made it hard for ourselves, but we battled back,” Tuomo Ruutu said.
Early in the third period, Ian White ducked and hit Erik Cole with a low blow that sent him soaring through the air, landing on his back. That didn’t sit well with Cole, and he did something he has fallen out of the habit of – he dropped the gloves. He was a little rusty, and White pummeled him.
It didn’t work out well for the ‘Canes, either. Immediately after both players took a seat, Toronto utilized its man advantage (Cole was whistled for cross-checking somewhere during that play.) Carolina allowed Alexei Ponikarovsky to display his coast-to-coast moves as he swept by unhindered and easily put the puck past a sliding Legace.
Tim Gleason put one through traffic to tighten the score again. It was, as his always are, from the blueline, and it cut straight to the net. He looked a little shocked, but pleased. It was Gleason’s third goal of the year after going the entire regular season without one in 2008-2009.
The ‘Canes were handed the opportunity to tie it up on a silver platter when White took a double minor for high sticking. Furthering his hero status, Gleason landed the first two-goal game of his career when he scored a goal-scorer’s tap-in off a beautiful feed from Brandon Sutter.
Though the ‘Canes’ players are vocal about not caring how they get out of this slump as long as they do, they probably didn’t want to win in that manner. A video replay showed White wasn’t responsible for the high stick after all – Yelle was. Oops. We’ll certainly be hearing about that one.
Carolina fell asleep before the game ended, counting on its fourth overtime in as many games (a franchise record, by the way) and allowed White to skate in and score the winner unchallenged with 29 seconds left. The ‘Canes called their time-out.
Gleason said the message from the coaching staff was simple during the time out.
“Score,” Gleason laughed. “Get busy and put pucks in front of the net.”
But no! Wait! What?! Since Eric Staal wasn’t around to pull another New Jersey-esque comeback, his erstwhile linemate did it for him. Cole notched his second of the season with three seconds left in the game.
“I was absolutely awful and the boys bailed me out,” Legace said. “I was halfway down the hallway [when Cole scored,] just bitter at myself for letting the guys down. It was such a great effort to come back from three goals down after the first. They played just phenomenal, no giving up.”
Both the ‘Canes and the Leafs looked like they wanted to finish it off in overtime, but it wasn’t to be. The team went to its third straight shootout.
Ruutu faked Gustavsson out, then skated around him to score the first goal of the shootout.
Phil Kessel’s attempt was stonewalled.
Jussi Jokinen put a new spin on his signature move, coming in at an angle then slowing to a crawl. He waited until Gustavsson committed, then fired it past him into the empty half of the net.
Legace shut the door on Stempniak's blast as well.
And so the ‘Canes won their second home game in a row in dramatic fashion. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked.
The Tampa Bay Lightning, one of those teams Carolina has…ya know…beaten, comes to town Saturday night.
Have a nice rest after this one, folks – you’ve earned it.