by Kate Shefte
RBC CENTER/RALEIGH – In a match-up intriguing for its promise of old teammates and ousted coaches facing one another for the first time, the Philadelphia Flyers bested Carolina, 4-3, in the shootout. Both struggling teams saw their weaknesses exploited as Carolina fell into a large deficit through two periods but mounted a surprising comeback in the third as the Flyers fell flat.
The game was spookily similar to the teams’ season opener, a 2-0 loss at the RBC Center Oct. 2, even though the teams’ benches and expectations were radically different. The Flyers amassed a comfortable lead early and played shut down defense to maintain it, leading to a boring but effective game.
But a late ‘Canes comeback spoiled any chance of a similar outcome. Jussi Jokinen tallies sandwiched a Brandon Sutter goal and brought the ‘Canes back from a three goal third period deficit to force overtime. There, Leighton stoned two guys who were his teammates less than two weeks ago and won the game for the visiting team.
“He hasn’t played that much hockey this year and his confidence can’t be that high,” Jokinen said of Leighton. “We shot some pucks and we were able to score some ugly goals, which we haven’t been able to do this year. But we got one point and we wanted two, so that’s still a tough loss.”
Jokinen almost started the scoring off early. He batted it past Michael Leighton and it trickled toward the goal line, but Philadelphia’s Matt Carle saved it just before it went in.
Later on that same play, Mike Richards scored for the Flyers. Ward stopped the initial shot on a three-on-two but had the puck taken away from him and sent into the net.
The Flyers appeared to go-ahead goal moments later, and even though the goal light went on and the Flyers seemed pretty sure they scored, the puck was determined to have been batted into the net by someone’s glove. The referee on hand waived it off immediately.
Philadelphia got it back later in the first when Scott Hartnell sent a puck out to a pinching Jeff Carter, who caught Ward way out of the net and less square to the shooter than he probably would have liked.
Matt Cullen almost scored on the doorstep to send the ‘Canes into the period break with tidings of great joy, but his no-look backhand found only Leighton’s pads.
Joni Pitkanen and Ray Whitney both had “how did I miss that?” chances, but Leighton – looking thoroughly at home in his orange and white threads – turned the chances aside. Sergei Samsonov went in one-on-one on the power play and his shot went wide.
Cullen was stonewalled again midway through the third when his shot went past Leighton, who had a good idea of where it was. It bounced out past the ‘Canes’ D and out of harm’s way.
Maurice has been looking for love in all the wrong places with line changes these days, throwing anyone and everyone together in hopes of generating some offense. Staal started the game playing on the wing (supposedly to let him “focus on scoring”) with Jokinen and Dwyer but spent most of the game with Cullen at center. This trio provided the spark that lifted the ‘Canes back into the game.
“We pulled it together in the last period,” Staal said. “It was nice to contribute on that line and get it to 3-3.”
But first, the Flyers put the game almost out of reach. With Hartnell screenning Ward this time, Kimmo Timmonen found Daniel Briere streaking in and he roofed the puck past the Carolina goaltender.
24 seconds later, Jokinen spoiled Leighton’s shutout bid after he received one of those odd bounces that eluded Caroling all night. Eric Staal had the puck swept off his stick and caused a mess in front of the net with two Flyers and Cullen. Jokinen fired the puck into the tangle of legs and had it ricochet off one of them and into the net, earning him his ninth of the season.
Ward blocked first Briere and Carter two-on-one and then a Gagne solo breakaway to keep the ‘Canes in it.
With a late power play ticking away, Joni Pitkanen dumped the puck in from the point. It took an odd bounce off the boards where Sutter was waiting to pot his second goal in as many games and carry his point streak to three games.
Laviolette called his time-out for the Flyers, but he couldn’t stop the good vibes that were flowing through the Carolina bench. Jokinen bookended Sutter’s goal and completed the comeback bid with his second of the night, a tap-in of a Staal rebound.
“I thought we had a good start with a couple of pucks on the goal line, but they scored and took the wind out of our sails,” Staal said. “We had to get ourselves out of it and we did.”
Carter took a seat after taking an elbowing penalty and Carolina called its time-out with a minute left in the third period to try and figure out a way to win it in regulation. That didn’t happen and the latter half of the penalty, which carried over to overtime, also produced nothing.
Ward had a beauty with 2:49 left in overtime. With Pitkanen blocking one side of the net, Ward had to slump over with glove arm outstretched to prevent two swarming Flyers from sending it over him. He had another good one on a bouncing puck after Jokinen won a faceoff so cleanly into his own end that it almost gave the Flyers a two man breakaway.
The Flyers gained some momentum going into the shootout. Tuomo Ruutu went first and tried to go around Leighton, but he gave him no space to work with. Briere tried the same move and it worked on Ward. One would think a Jokinen goal was a given after his two during regulation, but his attempt bounced off the goalpost. Richards tallied the final goal to give the Flyers a win, albeit a little later than they expected.
Carolina will travel to meet the Capitals Monday night in the penultimate game of 2009. The Flyers will head off to the Winter Classic and the Olympics are up next…plenty of good hockey to look forward to. And looking at Carolina’s spirited effort tonight, maybe it won’t be quite so painful here in Raleigh during the new year.