Weird things happen on New Year’s Eve. We all have our stories. I once woke up on a stranger’s lawn in an unfamiliar town in the twilight of the next morning. You just roll with these things. Don’t ask questions; just let it play out.
After losing five games in a row, the Carolina Hurricanes found themselves down 3—0 to Montreal after two periods on New Year’s Eve. For 40 minutes, they’d given their fans plenty of reasons to need drinks later.
But, striking like lightning reanimating Dick Clark’s body, the Canes suddenly held a 4—3 lead just eight minutes later. They finished off Montreal with an overtime goal by Alexander Semin, sparking a five-game winning streak that Columbus ended last Friday night.
Happy New Year. We’ll take the Jekyll with the Hyde.
So why the sudden change of fortune? It could be the standings, where the Canes had been in danger of falling well off the pack. Or it could have been trade winds a-blowing.
Case in point—the New Year’s Day swap with Toronto of gritty (read: slow) defenseman Tim Gleason for offensive (read: motivated) defenseman John-Michael Liles. Liles promptly tallied for the Canes versus his old team, while Gleason delivered an ill-tempered slash in the waning moments of the lopsided Leafs loss. Raise your hand if you miss Gleason. Anyone? Didn’t think so.
Cam Ward pulled up lame after presiding over the comeback against the Habs, but still surrendered a late, tying goal in the third period to spoil a chance at a regulation win. Anton Khudobin, meanwhile, stepped right off the injured reserve list to win his first four games back. He seemed to fight the puck early in the games, but calmed down by the middle of the opening period each night. I even grabbed him for my fantasy team. Ward is day-to-day.
Jeff Skinner continues to melt the ice. His hat trick in Washington was just one highlight in a five-game stretch (7G, 4A, what?) that garnered the NHL’s first star of the week. Jordan Staal has thawed as well, with a four-point night in Toronto, including a shorthanded goal on a wrist shot that should be framed and put in the North Carolina Museum of Art, replacing those Porsches.
Big brother Eric (day-to-day) hasn’t been as lucky. He’s missed three straight games with a lower-body concern, which could mean any kind of injury of any severity, anywhere beneath the belt.
An irksome aside on Canes television broadcasts: Does it chafe anyone else that the impeccable John Forslund and the excitable Tripp Tracy call the Staal brothers by their first names? Yes, the alternative is to call them both “Staal,” which would be confusing. Oh, except it wouldn’t. They wear unique numbers and move completely differently on the ice. When I hear “Skinner passes to Jordan,” I think of a) MJ and b) girls’ youth-league soccer.
Notes: Three Canes punched tickets to the Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. Justin Faulk (USA), Tuomo Ruutu (Finland) and Andrej Sekera (Slovakia) were selected for their national teams, while Semin and Eric Staal, both Olympians in Vancouver in 2010, were left off the Russian and Canadian teams, respectively… The slumping Winnipeg Jets fired coach Claude Noël on Sunday, replacing him with two-time Canes boss Paul Maurice, who brings his dour visage to PNC Arena on Feb. 4… Rookie Elias Lindholm, lent to silver-medalist Sweden for the World Junior Championships, returned to tally a goal and two assists in the 6—1 drubbing of Toronto. Lindholm (2G, 7A, 6GP) was among the tournament scoring leaders… Credit the Polar Vortex with an assist for snowing out a date with the Sabres on Jan. 7 and affording the boys an extra day of rest. They’ll shuffle back to Buffalo on Feb. 25…