The Carolina Hurricanes held on for a historic 4-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils at the RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C. on Monday.
Special teams play was the anticipated focus for this game as the Devils flew into Raleigh with the NHL’s top penalty-killing record (92.7%) to face a Hurricanes power play that had struggled of late, but the game’s highlight of the night showcased goaltender Cam Ward earning credit for the final goal of the game.
Though the Devils improved on their penalty kill by holding the Hurricanes scoreless on the power play (0-4), it was the final minute of play that made this game a memorable one as a Devils empty-net own goal at 19:30 of the third period was Ward’s to claim.
Being the only Hurricanes player to last touch the puck on the play, Ward became the first goaltender in team history to score, the tenth in NHL history to do so, and the first since Chris Mason did it on April 15, 2006 while playing with Nashville in a game against the Phoenix Coyotes.
The Devils began the game with a strong forechecking presence against the Hurricanes defense which experienced trouble moving the puck out of its zone.
However, New Jersey’s Ryan Carter did them a favor as his cross-check from behind on Tim Brent, provided Carolina an opportunity to score on the power play.
Though they didn’t take advantage of the power play opportunities they were afforded, including a 5-on-3 situation late in the period, the Hurricanes continued to create shot opportunities that kept New Jersey goaltender Johan Hedberg busy from the start.
Make it short
Carolina’s Tuomo Ruutu was called for tripping midway through the period which turned out to work in Carolina’s favor as forward Brandon Sutter gave Carolina a 1-0 lead with his third shorthanded goal of the season, assisted by defenseman Tim Gleason, at the 11:13 mark.
The goal placed Sutter tied for second in the NHL in that category.
Even with the best penalty-killing record in the league, Sutter’s goal placed the Devils in a spot all to their own in another statistical category – allowing the most shorthanded goals by any team in the league to date.
Sutter’s goal was the only one scored by the end of the first period as the Hurricanes carried the 1-0 lead into the first intermission.
Just shoot it
When the teams returned to the ice for the second period, it was Carolina who took full control of the game, outshooting New Jersey 13-2 throughout.
Ruutu extended the Hurricanes’ lead to 2-0 with his 13th goal of the season at 12:59 of the second period with assists going to Tim Brent and Alexei Ponikarovsky.
With the goal, Ruutu took over as the team’s top goal scorer.
Carolina continued to utilize effective puck control and relentless forechecking throughout the period until Anthony Stewart put the Canes further ahead 3-0 with his fifth goal of the season, and the eventual game-winner at 17:13 of the period.
Stewart’s line mates Andreas Nodl and Tim Brent each earned assists on the goal as Nodl extended his consecutive points streak to three games while Brent tallied his second multi-point game of the season.
“Kirk’s been telling me to do a lot more shooting and I just buried my head and shot and it ended up going in,” Stewart said after the game.
By the end of the second period, the Hurricanes led 3-0, outshot the Devils 23-13, and would only need a solid 20-minute finish to cap off a victory.
Still have work to do
Coming out for the third period, the Devils were determined to fight back and put pressure on the Hurricanes early on, but Ward continued to maintan his solid presence in net to keep them scoreless.
However, as they have been prone to do during the third period of play, Carolina’s defense broke down and allowed David Clarkson to get the Devils on the board at the 12:38 mark.
Still maintaining a 3-1 lead, the Hurricanes had room to maneuver and outlast the Devils who didn’t go home easily.
Adam Henrique cut the Carolina lead to 3-2 with his 10th goal of the season at the 17:40 and made the remainder of the game a memorable one.
With the Devils pressing to tie the game during the late stages of the third period, Ward made numerous saves and one that put would put him into the history book.
The Carolina netminder’s feat originated after making a stop on a slap shot from the Devil’s Patrik Elias which deflected to Zach Parise who maintained control of the puck behind the net before passing it to Ilya Kovalchuk.
As Kovalchuk gathered Parise’s pass, he circled in the corner and attempted to make a pass to the point, but he slid it beyond the reach of a sprawling Henrique and both teams and all 16,121 in attendance watched as the puck slid all the way down the ice and into the New Jersey goal.
The goal, an empty-netter, sealed the Hurricanes win at 4-2 and at first was thought to be credited to Brandon Sutter who looked to have tipped the puck past Henrique.
However, Sutter made it clear who deserved the credit.
“It was Wardo’s,” a smiling Brandon Sutter said.
“Yeah, as soon as it went in I think we all kinda’ knew it was his and the ref kinda’ came up and asked me what happened and he asked who touched it last and it was him. It was Cam Ward’s goal.”
Afterwards Ward joked that he told defenseman Bryan Allen that he now had more goals than he did on the season.
“That was just the fluke thing that happened,” a humble Ward said in describing his first-ever NHL goal.
“I guess technically I was the last one (to touch it); it would have been nicer if Sutter actually got credit for it. It is what it is, I guess.”
That winning feeling
“We’re starting to find ways to win in our building,” Sutter said when asked what the win meant to the team’s confidence. “It’s something we’re building on and hopefully we can keep it going.”
The Hurricanes’ recent defensive play has helped to keep scores close and the last four games have provided Ward with less work as he has faced 25 shots or less over that time while Carolina has gone 2-1-1.
“I thought in the first period I was seeing the puck really well,” Ward said. “I felt like I got off to a good start. Even though I wasn’t facing much (in) shots, I felt like I was involved in the game.”
Good team effort
Coach Kirk Muller was pleased with the team’s effort and earning two points against a team like the Devils.
“Everyone should feel like they’re a part of it and did well, and it was a real team effort tonight,” Muller said.
Heading to Pittsburgh on the back end of the team’s seventh set of back-to-back games, Muller must now seek to maintain the team’s momentum against the Penguins while deciding whether to start Ward in goal or give recent call-up and backup Justin Peters a start.
“We gotta’ look at getting Peters into the net here, and maybe tomorrow’s a good time, so we’ll look at it tonight.”
Tough decision ahead
Riding the team’s first two-game win streak under his leadership, Muller may possibly make one of his toughest decisions to date regarding the team’s goaltenders.
Considering the momentum that the team is riding currently and with the team’s history of not winning when Ward is not in net, the odds are stacked against Muller in making a change.
However, in meeting the challenge of managing the fragile balance of success and confidence that the team has gained recently, Muller’s ability to make his players believe anything is possible if they work hard for it, may allow him to take it a step further.
The Kirk Muller decision-making process will continue to reveal itself on Tuesday.
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