Eric Staal tallied his 12th career hat trick, Cam Ward turned away 43 shots, and the Hurricanes survived the final frantic minutes shorthanded in a 4-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks before more than 16,000 noisy fans treated to snow flurries on their drive to the rink. The team's season-high win streak stands at four games and counting.
Don't look now, but Staal's 16 tallies rank him seventh in the league in goal-scoring. The captain is showing every sign of intending to play in the league's All-Star Game in Raleigh next month, overshadowing his Olympic linemate Ryan Getzlaf's pair of goals for the Ducks.
Ward also continued making a case for All-Star inclusion, authoring many difficult saves in a game featuring the two goalies who've seen the most shots in the league. His jaw-dropping glove save on a point-blank Saku Koivu shot with a minute left sealed the win.
For the third straight game, Carolina spotted their opponent the first goal. Just 2:39 into the opening frame, the Canes were guilty of watching one the the league's best lines play, as Bobby Ryan carried the puck down the wing and flipped a soft pass that Corey Perry fired on Ward. The rebound kicked out to Getzlaf cruising leisurely through the abandoned crease, who had time to out-wait Ward—or perhaps even enjoy a dollar hot dog—before flipping the puck into the net.
But Brandon Sutter's line thoroughly checked the Getzlaf line the rest of the way, countering their refrigerator-like size with determination and speed. Tuomo Ruutu played with a particular edge. By the third period, Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle swapped the shiftier Teemu Selanne for first Perry and then Ryan, to give them more of a chance to possess the puck. It didn't work.
On one shift midway through the first period, Sutter dominated the ice. Continuing a team trend, he won a faceoff, then forechecked two Ducks skaters, forcing them from their blue line to behind their net. When they finally managed a pass up the boards, it was weak enough that Ruutu stole it and moved it down low to Sutter. Shedding checkers, he carried the puck across the zone, drawing the defense, before dropping the puck to Jussi Jokinen for an open slap shot from the circle. Jokinen missed the net and the puck kicked around the boards, giving the Ducks a breakout chance, but Sutter was somehow there to stifle it at center ice.
Undaunted by the early deficit, the Canes worked their way back into the game with two power play goals in the first period. Just 27 seconds into a crosschecking penalty to Getzlaf, Jussi Jokinen curled his way into the zone and zipped a diagonal pass to Staal on the wing. His quick shot found its way under Jonas Hiller, who was kneeling awkwardly in an effort to slide against the near goal post.
Carolina took the lead in the final minute of the period, needing only 32 seconds of man-advantage. Jamie McBain, buoyed by his first goal of the season Wednesday night in Florida, fired a hard slap shot off the back boards. It caromed straight out to Staal at the side of the net. He pushed it past Hiller's tardy pad for his second goal of the period.
The Canes picked up where they left off after the intermission. Sutter's line cycled the puck in the Anaheim zone for a solid minute, exhausting the visitors. One skater at a time, Carolina changed over to Staal's line while holding the puck as some in the crowd stood to applaud the pressure. And Staal obliged them, capping a natural hat trick at the 1:41 mark to give the Canes a two-goal lead. Santa hats peppered the usual assortment of ball caps on the ice.
Jeff Skinner's centering pass scooted off a defenseman's skate right into the crease, where Erik Cole froze Hiller with a head fake before pushing the puck onto Staal's blade for the tap-in. Skinner is developing a knack for working from behind the net in the offensive zone, flipping pucks into the shooting areas. With physical, fearless linemates like Staal and Cole, the line produced 14 shots on goal—10 by Staal alone.
Carolina seemed satisfied with the lead, down-shifting their play to a more complacent rolling of lines for the rest of the period. Staal passed up several chances to score a fourth goal, trying to force the puck to Cole on a rush midway through the frame instead of firing an open shot from the circle. On their heels a bit, the Canes had to kill a pair of penalties before the second intermission. Ryan Carter, who came to the Canes from Anaheim around Thanksgiving, brought a tenacity to the penalty kill, and Ward calmly did the rest to keep the score 3-1.
Physical play was the story of the third period as the Ducks rallied. With Ward on his back just a couple minutes in, Tim Gleason scraped the puck off Getzlaf's stick at the lip of the crease, preventing a shot. Corvo was then whistled for hooking Brandon McMillan, a call he argued vehemently all the way to the penalty box. Replays showed McMillan's arm was clamped against his body, holding Corvo's stick to draw the call. Getzlaf bullied Ward on the power play, knocking him into the post, but Cole somehow cleared the puck out of a forest of legs to quash a great chance.
Ruutu and Paul Mara took turns crushing each other into the boards around six minutes in as checking intensified. The Canes—Joni Pitkanen in particular—repeatedly iced the puck unnecessarily, chopping up the period with faceoffs throughout. But Carolina continued its upward trend at the dot, winning almost 60 percent of the faceoffs, including a Staal slap shot of a draw that nearly caught Hiller napping.
The game turned ugly with just 3:01 left as Corvo attacked Perry in the corner. The Ducks pulled Hiller to start the power play on a two-man advantage, which led to a marginal call on Sutter seconds later. His stick broken on the faceoff, Sutter gloved a rebound and threw it out of the zone. The official ruled he'd closed his hand on the puck, and the Ducks had a rare 6-on-3 power play with 2:47 left.
Before the ensuing faceoff had been settled, Staal was whistled for crosschecking Getzlaf—the third Carolina penalty in 30 seconds—which brought Hiller back to defend his goal from empty-net icing attempts. Getzlaf broke through moments later, slapping a rebound in after a series of close-in saves by Ward.
That was all, though, that Ward would relinquish. Backing almost into his net, he turned away shot after shot to the corners. Corvo crafted a brave clear after he burst out of the penalty box, whiplashing his body like a crayfish to fling the puck out and allow Gleason and Jokinen, hunched over from exhaustion, to skate off for a change. Sutter, too, cleared the puck upon exiting the box as the Canes kept working.
Corvo got a well-deserved measure of revenge with an empty-netter from the boards with just four seconds left to end the threat. But the Ducks didn't appreciate it. Perry slashed Corvo and they mauled each other against the wall. Ryan and Sutter wrestled as well. Perry will face a possible suspension after being assessed a 10-minute misconduct penalty. But the Canes will celebrate a win.