Newbie Brian Pothier and call-up Justin Peters were the heroes tonight as Pothier scored his first Hurricane goal in dramatic fashion 23 seconds into overtime against the defending Stanley Cup champs. Peters backstopped the ‘Canes to a 4-3 win with a 37-save performance.
I’m sure you all enjoyed Jeff Hamlin’s Ottawa recap last week (and David’s far less ridiculous headline) and I have to say, it gave me a little hope. Had I really been so out of it that I hadn’t realized how far this recent surge propelled the Hurricanes forward? No other team can top the ‘Canes’ 8-1-1 record in their last 10 games. But no – still fourth to last in the league. But wait…eight points back? How is that possible? History says all but one team in the top-8 in the Eastern Conference will make it to the postseason. But it’s okay to dream, right?
Peters said the team is going to keep going until it’s mathematically eliminated, and probably well afterward.
“We’re just going to keep fighting,” Peters said. “There’s no quit in this locker room.”
The Penguins pounced on the tired-looking ‘Canes early. Carolina left Jordan Staal alone with plenty of time and space less than two minutes in and he wristed a puck past Justin Peters. Later, on a Patrick Dwyer penalty, Peters couldn’t find the puck and Bill Guerin was happy to assist him.
“At times we looked tired tonight, but we battled through it,” Pothier said.
Sergei Gonchar had a blonde moment and checked Chad LaRose headfirst into the boards. It turned out to be far less nasty than it looked because LaRose popped right back up with an indignant look on his face. 10 seconds into the penalty, Ray Whitney sent a long Joni Pitkanen one-timer whistling past Brent Johnson to make it 2-1.
Jussi Jokinen was felled by a high stick behind the Pittsburgh net and went to the bench with a bloody nose. Somehow that one escaped the referees’ attention. But on the next play, Zach Boychuk made the Pens pay with a nasty, unassisted backhand that seemed to completely befuddle Johnson. I hope even as an NHL regular, Boychuk doesn’t lose that youthful appreciation for each and every goal, because he celebrated his latest as though it was his first.
“It feels nice to score a good one, especially against Sidney Crosby and the Pens,” Boychuk said. “It’s been a lot of fun – one night [Alex] Ovechkin, the next night Crosby.”
So for those of you keeping count, that was four goals in under 10 minutes. The rapid fire production slowed to a crawl after that.
Holy collective effort, Batman! When Peters went way out to meet Evgeni Malkin and couldn’t get back in time, Tuomo Ruutu fancied himself a goaltender and dove in the net. The puck bounced off several bodies in front of the net but stayed out.
Rookie Brandon Sutter left the first period with a “lower body injury” and never returned.
As soon as the spectators returned to their seats with a fresh beer, it was big brother Eric’s turn to put his team ahead. Erik Cole, who felt good enough to play tonight after coming down with the same mysterious RBC Center flu bug that seems to have afflicted Sidney Lowe (sorry, ACC on the brain tonight) nudged the puck to Staal, who scored on Johnson glove side.
Pascal Dupuis’ wraparound chance bounced out to the much-maligned Matt Cooke, who buried the puck to make it 3-3. Cooke received no suspension after a blindside hit to the head of Marc Savard last Sunday, who temporarily lost consciousness and will likely miss the rest of the season for the probably playoff-bound Bruins due to a grade-two concussion. His non-infraction stands a good chance of directly leading to a new NHL rule regarding hits to the head, which will likely take effect next season.
Mark Eaton and Gonchar took seats within seconds of each other in the waning minutes of the second period and the Hurricanes struggled to get good scoring chances.
Cole had a solo breakaway early in the third period and had time to do exactly what he wanted…except score. Johnson was up to the task.
Tuomo Ruutu ran into Johnson, who lay flat and immobile as a PAM-less pancake until Ruutu was all the way to the penalty box and the Penguins trainer was buzzing around him. He jumped up and was instantly fine. Carolina survived the ensuing power play.
The unusually even crowd, which roared nearly as loud for Pittsburgh goals as it did for Carolina ones, found one thing to agree upon midway through. When the Jumbotron flashed the final score of the Georgia Tech/Carolina game from Greensboro, the crowd roared in almost perfect unison. How cute.
The rest of the third period looked like a prolonged Penguins power play. The Hurricanes couldn’t get it out of their own zone and the Penguins looked as terrifying as they did in the Eastern Conference Finals. Only a late Peters point-blank save on Dupuis – who was standing a foot in front of him – and a deflection off the crossbar sent Carolina to its second consecutive game with extra innings.
“They obviously were putting on a lot of pressure, but the D did a really good job and I saw a lot of the shots,” Peters said of the late Pittsburgh surge.
You could see Peters’ chest heaving with exhaustion as the horn sounded. But the ‘Canes didn’t give him time to make a tired mistake as 23 seconds into overtime, Pothier took a Whitney pass and scored his first goal as a ‘Cane.
“[Whitney’s] a special player. He sees the ice better than most guys do,” Pothier said. “He wasn’t looking at me, but I had a feeling that he saw me and he put it right on my stick through somebody’s legs. It was a beautiful pass.”