by Kate Shefte
RBC CENTER/RALEIGH – After yesterday’s winter weather headfake, 12,700 fans filled into the RBC Center to see some snow that hadn’t been washed away yet. What they saw was a game in which Carolina built a 3-0 lead through two periods and held on during a late scare for a 3-2 win.
Don’t look for blowouts from this Carolina team this season. It’s become a comical trend this season – the ‘Canes jump out to a large lead and can never hold onto it, allowing their opponents to get within one at least. The ability to survive the collapse with a scrap of the lead intact has given them most of their nine wins in 35 games.
After allowing five goals on 26 shots before being yanked from the net last night in Florida, Cam Ward was a steel trap for the first and second periods. Only luck and a rash of undisciplined play from his teammates ended that streak.
“We needed to respond and come up with a big effort,” Ward said. “I had a bit of a rough night last night with things not going as I hoped, but that was the good thing about it, being able to redeem ourselves within 24 hours in our home arena.”
The game started with a dizzying fight that saw Tom Kostopolous and Gregory Campbell spin around so many times you’d think they were auditioning to be sugarplum fairies in The Nutcracker. I wouldn’t say either won outright, but they get A’s for effort and B’s for form (toes pointed, gentlemen!)
Call-up Patrick Dwyer continued to impress as he opened the scoring against the Panthers in back-to-back nights. He absorbed a hit, then went to the net and waited for Matt Cullen to find him again. Ray Whitney got his 300th Hurricanes point with the secondary assist.
“It’s something I do,” Dwyer said. It wasn’t as cocky as it reads, promise. “I like to take the hit and then try and beat guys to the net.”
Stephane Yelle took a seat after a dangerous knee-on-knee collision with Florida’s Steve Reinprecht. He didn’t stick his leg out and it was tough to see whether there was any intent to injure – it wasn’t obvious as Ovechkin’s two weeks ago – but Florida probably wished it hadn’t been given the man advantage a few moments later.
Cullen and Dwyer continued making magic on the power play when Cullen intercepted a pass attempt just seconds in and went off on a two-on-one with Dwyer. He looked like he wanted to pass but held onto it and sent a laser past Scott Clemmensen for Carolina’s second shorthanded goal in just over a week.
“I went to the net trying to be a decoy,” Dwyer said. “Matt’s a shooter and I thought he was probably going to try and shoot.”
Whitney almost put the ‘Canes up by three with a bid in the final seconds of the first but had his shot turned away.
After a long stretch of flat play by both teams, Sergei Samsonov woke everyone up when he took a cross-ice feed from Tom Kostopoulos and buried it to make it 3-0.
The ‘Canes got a really unlucky break at the start of the third when Florida sent the puck around the boards. Ward went back to get it, not too early, but the puck bounced off the top of the boards and out right to the front of the net, where Shawn Matthias scored the easiest goal of his career. That one shouldn’t count against Ward’s goals-against average. And an assist should also probably be given to Karma.
Ward went windmilling a few minutes later to stop a two-on-one.
For reasons unknown, unless maybe they wanted to get a rise out of everyone, the Jumbotron fellas decided it would be a good idea to educate the RBC Center crowd on the legend of Scott Stevens, even though any fan who has been around Carolina a while knows exactly who he is, boycotted his induction into the Hall of Fame and probably has a Stevens dartboard stashed in a box somewhere. The video was, predictably, met with boos.
The Panthers got a golden opportunity to tie it up when they were handed a minute and a half of 5-on-3. Ray Whitney and Stephane Yelle went to the box for hooking. Ward was a brick wall for the first long stretch of possession, but couldn’t hold off the swarming Cats. Reinprecht wound up and fired on Ward from close in and the rebound bounced out to Stephen Weiss, who scored on an empty net.
Dwyer and Cullen had an empty net opportunity pass by when Cullen overskated the puck.
“He’s had some game here now and we’re starting to see some more confidence [from Dwyer] and him trying some things. We’re going to work on empty nets, though,” head coach Paul Maurice joked.
Take this however you want, but Carolina isn’t ready to throw in the towel on 2009-10 just yet. Maurice has a game plan and everything.
“We’ve actually played pretty consistently on the road. But over the next few months, we have to get as close to .500 as possible,” Mo said. “We’ve started building some confidence at home, but it’s going to be critical that we dominate at home.”
“We just need to prepare the same way and go after teams on the road just like we go after games at home,” Cullen said. “We have to pile up some points.”
The victory music in the locker room, which Carolina has been treated to in four of its last five (make that three of its last four...oops!) home games, is Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” this year. We'll see whether those lyrics are oddly prophetic when the ‘Canes take on the slumping Rangers Monday night in the second game in a four-game Christmas week homestand.