The Carolina Hurricanes got the spark that they needed while earning a 3-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs at the RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C. on Sunday afternoon.
With a number of Leafs jerseys sprinkled throughout the crowd of 13,187 in ‘Canes country, Carolina utilized the services of former Leafs currently on the roster to beat their opponents in the blue and white while goaltender Cam Ward turned away 23 shots to secure the victory.
The win broke Carolina’s three-game losing skid and the relief and energy coming out of the dressing room following the game will need to be rechanneled quickly as the team travels to Philadelphia overnight for a Monday game, the team’s fifth back-to-back set on the season so far.
Scoring drought ends
After extending their scoreless streak to almost 180 minutes, the Hurricanes ended it when defenseman Jay Harrison, a former member of the Leafs, scored his second goal of the season at 19:31 of the first period to give Carolina a 1-0 lead heading into the intermission.
Jussi Jokinen gave the Hurricanes a 2-0 lead with his first power play goal of the season at 7:05 of the second period with assists coming from Justin Faulk and Alexei Ponikarovsky.
The power play goal snapped an 0-23 stretch for the Hurricanes in extra-man situations as they had not scored one in seven games, dating back to Nov. 6 against Dallas.
Carrying the 2-0 lead into the third period, the Hurricanes had strong odds on earning a victory as they were 6-0-0 when doing so at the time, but as has been known with this year’s squad, any small lapses could change that very quickly.
Final period runs
Even while trailing Carolina, Toronto goaltender Ben Scrivens faced 41 shots throughout the game and kept his team in it for the first two periods of play until the NHL’s leading scorer, Phil Kessel, gave the Maple Leafs life during the third period.
Former Leaf Alexei Ponikarovsky elbowed Toronto’s Joffrey Lupul and gave Toronto its fourth power play opportunity of the game which Kessel took advantage of by putting a shot past Ward to narrow the score to 2-1 at the 4:31 mark of the period.
Even with the Leafs were pressing, Carolina maintained its close ‘gap’ defensive play that resulted in many turnovers, including one that put Eric Staal on a breakaway against Scrivens.
As Staal approached, Scrivens was in the right position while making one of his 39 saves on the night on the young captain, but could not handle the second challenge from a trailing Jeff Skinner who scored his team-leading eighth goal of the season and eventual game-winner at 13:08 of the third period with assists credited to Staal and defenseman Bryan Allen.
Leafs don’t die
Trailing 3-1 with one minute left to play, a lapse in Carolina’s defensive coverage again found Kessel wide-open to receive a pass from John-Michael Liles on a play started by Tim Connolly.
Kessel proceeded to snap a shot below Ward’s blocker and gave the Leafs a final opportunity to press for a tie as they trailed 3-2 at that point in the game.
Trying to capitalize once more on lapses in defensive coverage by the Hurricanes late in the game, the Leafs managed to earn a faceoff deep in the Carolina end and placed an extra attacker on the ice after pulling Scrivens from the net.
After one series of play and with another faceoff deep in the Carolina end, coach Paul Maurice took a timeout to assess the location of Kessel and defenseman Dion Phaneuf in setting up for the faceoff.
“We just wanted to make sure that we were going to the right spots,” Maurice explained after the game on the timeout call.
The strategy paid off as the Hurricanes denied the Leafs any further scoring opportunities in securing the closely-fought victory at home.
Faulk, playing in his fifth NHL game, celebrated earning his first NHL point by assisting on Harrison’s goal and was pleased with his play during the game.
“It’s definitely big to get the win,” Faulk said after the game. He was equally ecstatic to talk about his milestone: “Yeah, first point – glad to get it out of the way. It feels great and I definitely won’t forget it.”
The rookie defenseman was once again paired with Harrison and the pair contributed at both ends of the rink throughout the game.
With the team headed immediately to Philadelphia, the two blueliners along with their teammates carry some positive momentum that they feel is valuable to keep the team moving in the right direction.
“We’re ready to go here,” Harrison stated. “We don’t want to wait to play. We want to get back out there and do it again. Especially to get this winning feeling again in a building that we haven’t got that in very many times.”
Put me in coach
Carolina’s lapses in the third period that cost them goals may have been attributed to pushing three lines instead of four.
Though playing half the time that they did in the previous game against Buffalo, the team’s fourth line of Anthony Stewart, Tim Brent, and Zach Boychuk still managed to maintain their momentum throughout it all.
“We’re a good team when we’re rolling all four lines and outplaying their fourth line,” Stewart said. “We’re trying to gain the coach’s confidence to get as many minutes as possible. It’s a good feeling when everyone contributes.”
With the problems that the Hurricanes have had against the Flyers, Maurice pointed out that line combinations will need to change.
“We’re considering changing them,” Maurice said. “It’s a different animal on the road where you don’t get the match-up that you want. We may start one way, and believe it or not, we might finish a different way.”
Testing out their endurance
Regardless of how many line changes occur between the beginning and the end of the game, another full 60 minutes of effort will be needed for Paul Maurice and his team to earn another victory.
From a technical standpoint, the team has just played its two best games of the season, and a third is necessary during this stretch.
Though it may be asking a lot from a squad that has played very inconsistently during its last 10 games, the fight and the will is back and you can see it and hear it from the players.
The team concept and defensive system works if they all execute it with 100% effort and focus.
Even with a few bumps and bruises earned along the way, if this team can end the month of November on better terms than what it started with, there could be some pleasant fortunes for them to discover in the near future.
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