The Carolina Hurricanes came back and beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 in overtime in front of a crowd of 17,461 at the RBC Center in Raleigh N.C. on Thursday night.
Hurricanes captain Eric Staal scored the overtime game-winner and tallied three points (2g, 1a) on the night as his line mates, Zac Dalpe (1g, 1a) and Jiri Tlusty (2a) helped to lead the charge during the third period to earn a hard-fought two points from the Leafs.
Carolina coach Kirk Muller described the win as one that was all about the team’s leaders stepping up.
“I think it was all about leadership tonight,” Muller said. “Sutter, Staal, and Ward in net – these guys I thought had great games as far as battling right to the end.”
Special teams battle
After a dreadful defensive performance against the Pittsburgh Penguins two days earlier that witnessed backup goaltender Jason Peters facing 52 shots, Carolina got itself back in order as goaltender Cam Ward only had to face 24 shots on goal to help secure the victory while the his teammates challenged Toronto goalie James Reimer with 34 shots on net at the other end.
The story line with the Maple Leafs coming into town was concern for their penalty-killing performance which stood in last place in the NHL while the Hurricanes had their own concerns with their power play occupying the same place – 30th overall.
In the end, the game was determined with special teams play as Staal’s slap shot on the power play in overtime made its way past Reimer to give the Hurricanes their third straight win at home.
Carolina helped contribute to Toronto’s woes on the penalty-kill as they have allowed a power play goal in five straight and 10 of its last 11 games while also allowing the most power play goals (39) overall in the NHL.
The Hurricanes finished 1-for-3 on the power play while the Maple Leafs ended up 0-for-7 with the man-advantage.
Photo gallery: Hurricanes vs. Maple Leafs
The Hurricanes established effective forechecking pressure early on as it took Toronto a little while to establish any effective puck control and movement.
Brandon Sutter scored his eighth goal of the season and gave the Hurricanes an early 1-0 lead at 4:15 of the first period with Drayson Bowman earning the assist on the play.
Sutter’s goal was the lone one scored in the first period while Toronto outshot Carolina 6-5.
When asked of the team’s defensive play and energy throughout the game, Muller was pleased with the effort but concerned with some lapses.
“I thought we started the game really well, “ Muller said. “I thought the first period we were good. I thought in the second we kinda’ sat back a little bit. They played a good second period and caught us on our toes.”
The Maple Leafs started the second period with increased pressure on the Hurricanes defense deep in their end and Nazem Kadri got the equalizer for Toronto, making it a 1-1 game at the 1:43 mark of the second period when he turned the puck over and scored on a wraparound shot past Ward.
For the remainder of the second period, both teams traded a few power play opportunities apiece but Toronto continued to hold the advantage in applying pressure against a more tentative and reactive Carolina defense.
The Hurricanes managed to get their share of scoring opportunities and outshot Toronto 10-9 with a number of shots on goal that required Reimer to make some exceptional saves to keep the game tied 1-1 heading into the second intermission.
The third period began with up-tempo play similar to the first as both teams skated hard from end to end and trying to establish puck control in order to be the first to break the deadlock.
Toronto got their opportunity and connected on it as Nickolai Kulemin gave the Leafs a 2-1 lead with his fourth goal of the season at the 6:36 mark.
Caught off-guard throughout the early part of the period, the Hurricanes had to also fight off a slashing penalty to Bryan Allen and relied on Ward to make numerous saves to keep the score at a one-goal deficit.
However, Carolina couldn’t hold on much longer as Joffrey Lupul gave Toronto a 3-1 lead at the 9:08 mark of the period with his 17th goal of the season.
As the puck dropped with just over 10 minutes remaining to play, many had seen this scenario play out before at the RBC Center with the Hurricanes trailing – a comeback was more the exception than the rule.
There was no lack of fight in Carolina’s effort to come back as they picked up their forechecking tempo and caused Toronto to turn the puck over on numerous occasions.
It didn’t take long, 40 seconds exactly after Toronto scored, for Eric Staal to net his eighth goal of the season at 9:48 of the third on a breakaway goal that cut the Toronto lead to 3-2.
Dalpe and Tlusty earned assists and their first points on the night while helping Staal broke a nine-game scoring drought.
As the Hurricanes continued to apply pressure deep in the Leafs zone a few minutes later, Dalpe tied the game, 3-3, at the 11:50 mark which was met with a tremendous roar from the crowd.
After Tlusty drove to the crease and was battling to jam the puck in, Dalpe got his stick on it and placed a back hand shot high and under the cross bar for his first goal of the season with Tlusty and Staal gathering assists on the play.
With eight minutes left to play, both teams continued to battle from end to end with physical challenges along the boards and close checking play resullting in a number of turnovers.
After one particular hard check along the boards, Dalpe appeared to look injured but in fact had lost his entire skate blade and had to push his way towards the bench on the other skate to get an equipment change.
Both teams were making quick and frequent line changes to keep fresh legs on the ice but a poorly executed substitution caught the Hurricanes with too many men on the ice with 3:05 reaming in the third period.
Carolina’s penalty killing units and Ward came up big in defending against the Leafs’ final power play of the night and with just over a minute to play, both teams were still tied 3-3.
Just as the Hurricanes killed off the penalty, Staal turned the play up ice with a 3-on-2 rush that ended with Reimer making a big stop on the play.
Reimer made another save on the ensuing faceoff in the Leafs end as Jussi Jokinen let a shot go that the Toronto netminder had to focus on to keep his team in the game.
As time wound down, both teams had secured a point and headed to overtime providing the fans in attendance an added bonus and more excitement on the night.
Overdrive in overtime
Staal continued what he had started as he and defenseman Justin Faulk worked the puck between one another and tested Reimer early during the overtime period.
Toronto‘s Tim Connolly took an undisciplined tripping penalty at 2:32 and placed Carolina in a position to win the game.
On the ensuing power play, it only took Carolina 38 seconds to set-up the 4-on-3 opportunity to finally end it.
Once again, it was Staal and Faulk working the puck between one another at the top of the slot and faceoff circle to Reimer’s left, as they tried to line up the best shot to win the game.
As the puck made its way around the passing lanes, from McBain to Faulk and Faulk to Staal, Staal finally let loose with a slap shot from the left faceoff dot that made its way through and past Reimer to secure the comeback win for the Hurricanes.
Carolina had given its fans another reason to celebrate during the holidays and to look forward to ringing in the New Year.
The team travels to play the Tampa Bay Lightning for its final game of 2011 on Saturday with puck drop at 5 p.m.
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