by Kate Shefte
Carolina survived a late mini collapse and got a hard-earned sixth win at home Sunday afternoon. Erik Cole’s sixth career hat trick – second all-time in franchise history – lifted Carolina over the Vancouver Canucks, 5-3. The ‘Canes made it hard on themselves yet again but didn’t surrender the equalizer and cooled the streaking Canucks, who had won four of their last five.
The win came at the end of a relatively busy week for past, present and future Hurricanes. Rutherford executed a minor deal, sending the rights to 2009 first round pick Philippe “Ron Francis Jr.” Paradis to Toronto in exchange for forward (and amateur porn star - Google fiends will know what I’m talking about) Jiri Tlusty. Tlusty will probably spend must of his time in the minors this season but could join the big league next year.
In addition, Carolina will not have longtime assistant coach Kevin McCarthy calling the shots in practice as he rejoined Peter Laviolette, who finally got hired by an NHL team. The duo will try and pick the Philadelphia Flyers up out of their slump (those who have watched the ‘Canes this season will snort derisively. “Please, you call THAT a slump? We haven’t even won on the road…”) McCarthy was relegated to a box far above the action after Francis came along and will probably take a more active role with the Flyers, not to mention rejoin several old buddies. Break out the Dubble Bubble and hair gel, because Laviolette is back in business. If history repeats, the Flyers will probably win the cup this year.
But now, back to Raleigh. The ‘Canes looked surprisingly fresh after a five day break between games.
“Typically when you lose five in a row, you don’t want to have four days off because it means your coach is going to hand it to you,” Ray Whitney said. “Thankfully, he was good to us. I think it helped give some guys who were laboring for a few weeks some time off. We had five days to think about it and we responded.”
Manny Legace was pretty incredible in turning away 33 shots on goal Sunday, many of them tough looks. He started things off with an incredible block during a penalty to Aaron Ward.
The Canucks got on the board first when a harmless-looking shot from the right circle bounced off Legace’s pad and into the net. It was nowhere near the team’s best chance of the period, but that’s how it goes.
Before they could even finish announcing the Vancouver goal after a break in play, Whitney slipped behind the defense and sent a beautiful backhander into the top of the net. Andrew Raycroft barely had time to react.
Legace might not have been able to stop the easy shots, but he made sparkling saves on tough chances throughout the first period. He stopped a tricky wrister and slid over to turn away the rebound at the opposite end of the crease.
Staal beat his man and had Raycroft down and out, but he couldn’t even get a shot off when in front of the net completely alone. He finished with two assists but is still waiting on his first goal since he returned from injury.
The floodgates opened in the second period as the ‘Canes scored three unanswered goals. Whitney set up Erik Cole a few minutes into the second period, who deked out Raycroft and unleashed a quick wrister that found its way past him stick side.
It was almost as through the teams decided to switch jersey before the period started for funsies and hoped no one would notice. The Canucks did a very Carolina-esque thing and left Sergei Samsonov home alone in front of the net. He made a great play out of what should have been a sloppy mess, collecting a Tuomo Ruutu giveaway in front of the opponents’ net and roofing it past Raycroft.
Ryan Kesler had a chance to bring it closer on a breakaway, but he sent his shot high over the net. Legace had to hit the splits twice to deny Vancouver breakouts.
Ryan Johnson took an ill-timed penalty with under two minutes remaining in the period. It looked as though Raycroft smothered the puck under a pile of limbs in the crease on the ensuing play, but it trickled out from under his glove and into the net. Cole got the goal, the third of the night for Carolina’s suddenly turbocharged top line.
The ‘Canes went into the third period up 4-1. For those who saw last weekend’s jaw-dropping catastrophe against the Thrashers, the scenario looked horribly familiar.
“It crept into 14 or 15,000 people’s, not just our 20 minds,” Whitney said. “It was one of those situations where you didn’t want to see it going in that direction again.”
And sure enough, Carolina continued its third period goal hemorrhage. Legace stretched out as far as he possibly could again to deny a second chance, but Steve Bernier tucked it around his foot to make it 4-2.
Cole almost finished his hat trick and gave the ‘Canes a comfortable lead with eight minutes left, but his shot beat Raycroft before clanging noisily off the goalpost.
The Canucks brought it within one with five minutes left in the game. Legace popped the puck up into the air and Alex Burrows batted it into the net. There was a brief review to be completely positive it was beneath the crossbar, but even the crowd didn’t question the legality of it.
The last few minutes looked like one giant power play. It turned into an actual power play when the refs appeared to blow a call. They sent Sergei Samsonov to the box after he used telepathy to high-stick Burrows without a stick (he was struck in the face by the puck.) Canucks coach Alain Vigneault could have easily pulled Raycroft whenever he wanted during that span, but for some reason he did it with just over a minute left, giving the Canucks about 10 seconds of 6-on-4. Nothing came of it.
“We’ll say it was Mo’s time out [that turned things around.] How does that sound?” Cole joked. “We had some real timely saves by Manny and we did a good job of getting pucks out.”
Cole was ever-so-conveniently on the ice in the waning seconds and completed his sixth career hat trick with an empty-netter. It wasn’t his prettiest, but Staal said he doubted Cole cared in the least.
“Whatever, it’s a win. I don’t really care and I don’t think anyone else in this room does either,” Staal said.
Mo will drag his players, kicking and screaming, out onto the road for a four-game swing next week. Carolina will try for its first road win against either Pittsburgh, New Jersey, Washington or Ottawa. No problem, right?
“It’s going to be a tough week and we’re going to have to play really well to have success,” Cole said. “It hasn’t happened yet, so safe to say we’re overdue.”