RBC CENTER, RALEIGH—The St. Baldrick's Foundation shaved the heads of over one hundred fans before Tuesday's game between the Hurricanes and the Rangers to raise money for childhood cancer research. There's no official count yet of how many more fans tore their hair out after the game.
Jussi Jokinen had a pair of goals for Carolina, Jay Harrison netted just his second of the year on an uncharacteristic power move to the net, and Cam Ward faced 46 shots in a hard-fought game that also featured a vicious brotherly collision.
Eric Staal decked his younger brother Marc with a hard, clean shoulder check along the boards in the second period. Marc did not finish the game, though apparently as a result of a knee injury inflicted earlier in the game. The moment, however, bespoke the competitiveness of the contest and the season series overall.
There were no pretty goals to be had on this night. Brandon Prust broke the ice just two minutes in, as the Canes opened flatfooted. Sean Avery stole the puck from Jeff Skinner and darted around the back of the net. Avery's wraparound chance bounced right to Prust and the Rangers were rolling, following the goal with chances from Artem Anisimov's toss into a forest of legs in the crease and Marc Staal's well-aimed wrist shot that Ward gloved.
Once the Hurricanes found their legs, they created chances off redirection plays. Tim Gleason's slap pass to the far side of the goal was deflected wide by Skinner. Later, on a power play, Gleason worked a redirect play with Sergei Samsonov in the slot but Henrik Lundqvist managed to cover the puck.
Carolina evened the score with under four minutes remaining in the first period. Brandon Sutter found a loose puck as the Rangers were starting a rush up ice. He left it for Jay Harrison who went in alone on Lundqvist before the Rangers defenders could change direction. Harrison's shot went off the post, off Lundqvist's back, and in.
Both goaltenders were stellar. Ward was particularly busy, stoning Erik Christensen's power-play shot at the side of the net in the final minute of the first, and stuffing Wolski's chance from the slot early in the second after the Ranger's winger out-hustled Skinner to a loose puck.
After trading power plays, Erik Cole accidentally cleared the puck over the glass with a couple minutes left in the second period. This is an automatic minor penalty in order to prevent players from flipping the puck out just to get a stoppage, but the league should consider giving the officials the option to not make the call in cases like this. All alone along the boards, Cole was trying to push the puck ahead to move up ice, but it knuckled and he ended up getting his stick under it.
Of course, the Rangers converted. After Lundqvist foiled Staal on one of several shorthanded chances on the night, Joni Pitkanen hooked Marc Staal, who was then sent sprawling by his brother. Ryan Callahan tipped a Mats Zuccarello point shot past Ward a second after the two-man advantage expired, but before Cole could rejoin play. Pitkanen had two hooking penalties on the night.
Games like this one, and the recent trio of losses to the New Jersey Devils, make one wonder if some changes will be made before Monday's trading deadline. The Canes always seem capable of finding the extra gear to close a one-goal gap in a third period, but incapable of stopping their opponents from turning the same trick. A physical, veteran blueliner seems the most glaring need, as well as a forward that could hold his own in front of the net. Point shots and cruises through the crease work less and less frequently in the grinding playoff-style hockey that the Canes have been struggling with since the All-Star break.
It's not hard, however, to imagine that the Canes are just one player away from a substantial improvement. Witness Tuesday's third period, when a Carolina surge in the opening minutes produced Jokinen's two goals and the team's first lead of the game. As a power play was expiring, Jokinen wristed a partially blocked Jamie McBain shot over Lundqvist's blocker. The pressure continued and three minutes later, after Troy Bodie won a puck along the boards that Cole moved to Harrison at the point, Jokinen found a rebound in the crease and tucked it behind Lundqvist.
But Carolina couldn't cash in on two golden chances after that. Tuomo Ruutu, Chad LaRose, and Skinner twice had 3-on-1 breaks but managed only a LaRose shot from in close on the first rush. The second rush was even more grim. LaRose chose to pass into traffic rather than take an open shot with Lundqvist moving. Michael Sauer, just coming into the back of the play, kept Skinner from the puck and started a rush that resulted in the tying goal amid a pile of bodies in front of Ward.
Both teams authored chance after chance in the 4-on-4 overtime period but the goalies would have none of it. Ward absorbed Zuccarello's point-blank slot shot with his chest. Skinner got loose for a wraparound chance but Lundqvist's pad was faster.
The shootout featured more great saves until Wolski's winner. Lundqvist stayed with Jokinen's deke, kicking his shot to the corner. But Wolski, skating in from an angle, beat Ward's glove on the Rangers' third chance to close the game out.