The Hurricanes pelted New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist with 33 shots Monday night but only wound up with one second period tally to show for it. The ‘Canes’ three-game home winning streak ended and the Rangers won their third in a row.
The packed pre-Christmas crowd, something that hasn’t been the norm this season, added a level of intensity that hadn’t quite been there through 18 home games. Adding to that was the sea of blue jerseys, as Yankee transplants took the chance to come see their old team in action.
Carolina got golden child Tim Gleason back after he missed a few games following an Alex Ovechkin slap shot to the face, reportedly due to concussion-like symptoms. Gleason said it was like “the first game out of the year.” He quickly ditched his face shield and said he hasn’t played with one at any point in his NHL career and doesn’t plan on changing that any time soon.
“I don’t know how the guys play with it,” Gleason said. “It’s obviously safer, but I wasn’t used to it. I sweat a lot and it was all over the visor. I couldn’t see much.”
Eric Staal had a good scoring chance early when he went in on a two-on-one with Jay Harrison, who wasn’t quite fast enough to get to the rendezvous point. Cam Ward cleaned up behind them each time an odd man rush went the other way.
The ‘Canes had eight shots in the first period but had a lot of trouble getting pucks on net. They picked off passes and found themselves alone with Lundqvist numerous times but couldn’t slow down enough to make it happen.
Both teams came out of the period break ready to crack the scoreless tie. 46 seconds in, Sergei Samsonov scrummed in front of Lundqvist with Brandon Sutter and Samsonov scored on the wrap-around, his second in two games after going three games without a point.
28 seconds after that, Marian Gaborik scored his league-leading 25th goal after catching Ward way out of position.
“[Gaborik] is such a talented player,” Ward said. “You have to treat him like the Crosbys and Ovechkins. He’s such a good player; he’s hard to contain. They got a lucky bounce off the endboards and I was a little too aggressive. I went out for a clean shot. I was out of the net, and next thing you know, it’s a tap-in.”
Two of Carolina’s elder statesmen in Scott Walker and Rod Brind’Amour went off on a two-on-one to try and give their team another lead. One fan present at the game texted me: “Brindy on a breakaway – our worst nightmare.” As the color commentary would suggest, it didn’t work out.
It was like the ice covering the neutral zone melted with a few minutes remaining in the first. No one could settle the puck down or even remain on their skates. After both teams wasted a few minutes playing go fetch, the Rangers went down a man for delay of game. The Carolina power play, strangely efficient as of late, couldn’t hit the net.
The early scoring rush continued in the third when Brandon Dubinsky scored to lift the Rangers to 2-1.
The ‘Canes tightened up defensively and had plenty of good chances, but couldn’t get the equalizer. The shots finished almost even at 33-30 and the quality of the chances were about even, but Carolina wasn’t quite as willing to jump in there, create traffic and work for that goal as the Rangers were. They tried big play after big play and Lundqvist saw it the whole way. Ward and the defense did an admirable job in keeping the score close and the erstwhile River Rats continued to bring the energy, but they can't be counted upon to score every night.
“Lundqvist is a good goaltender. We knew coming into it that it was going to be hard to score. I thought guys did a good job with putting puck on net and get a few rebounds, but it was awfully hard to get on those rebounds with their defense,” Ward said.
The ‘Canes took only one minor penalty during the game and it was at the start of the third period. The team, and the defense in particular, has figured out how to be physical while staying on the right side of NHL Law. Couple that with the fact that tonight’s referees were stuffed full of Christmas fruitcake and showed no inclination to call anything either way and you get an almost penalty-free game.
While big Staal got manhandled in front of Lundqvist trying to send the game to overtime, Marc Staal, his little brother, sealed the game with an unassisted empty netter from behind his own blue line.
Carolina is back at home Wednesday night to take on the 10th-place Montreal Canadiens.