The Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning, 3-2 in a shootout on Sunday to break a three game losing streak, two of which were at home. It was also the team's first shootout win of the season. The Canes lost their only other shootout game this year in Montreal, a team which will be visiting here on Tuesday night.
As expected, the Lightning came out hard in the first period in an attempt to please their new coach. They out-hit the Hurricanes 14 to 7, but the home team put more shots on goal, out-shooting the Lightning 12 to 7. Carolina was also able to draw three penalties, but they were unable to capitalize on the ensuing powerplays.
Tampa Bay opened the scoring when Radim Vrbata broke out of the penalty box and was hit with a nice pass. This created an odd-man rush and the ex-Hurricane had his choice of teammates to pass to. He found Martin St. Louis and the diminutive skater, who has a history of burning Carolina, held true to form and buried the puck in the open net.
The opening period ended 1-0, Tampa.
The second period started out somewhat similar to the first. Carolina drew another penalty, but quickly negated it because they had too many men on the ice. Shortly after that during an ill-timed line change, the Lightning were able to generate another odd man rush and Vincent Lecavalier shot the puck past Cam Ward.
Right before the goal, it seemed to everyone in the arena that the puck hit the skate of a player leaving the ice for Tampa during their line change, which should have given them a "too many men on the ice" penalty as well, but the obvious infraction was never called. The Canes bench argued loudly after the goal, but to no avail.
During the post-game press conference, Peter Laviolette said that the Tampa player leaving the ice, (Vinnie Prospal), should have gotten the assist, because the puck hit his skate before Lecavalier took it.
It will come as no surprise to Caniacs that Brad Watson was reffing this game and he somehow missed the obvious call. The Hurricanes have a history of coming out on the short end of Mr. Watson's "judgement".
Who will ever forget the two ridiculous "diving" calls that Watson made down in Florida in October 2007, which just happened to be made the very next game after Jacques Martin whined about Carolina "diving" in a previous contest. The complaints were very well publicized and apparently the Canes were duly "punished", even though the actual calls were ludicrous at the time they were made.
Then there was the must-win game at Washington in April of last year, in which Mr. Watson called numerous questionable penalties against the Canes, including a bench minor when they dared to complain about a call.
But enough about the "impartial" referee, back to the game.
With the Canes down 2-0 it seemed like this game might be another lost cause for Caniacs, and the RBC grew quiet. But with about five minutes left in the period, the fourth line came on the ice and Brandon Sutter put a shot on goal while skating in at an angle. The rebound came out to Wade Brookbank and the bruiser made no mistake as he slipped the puck past Mike Smith for the Canes first score.
Brookbank hadn't played at all in the first period and rarely gets much over a minute of ice time per game, but he made every second count on Sunday. (He played 1:58 in this game).
As one might expect, the goal ignited the crowd as well as the team and about one minute later, Rod Brind'Amour shot another puck past Smith to tie the score. The goal gave the team Captain sole possession of 50th place on the NHL's all time scoring list with 1,128 career points, moving him past Mike Bossy and Joe Nieuwendyk.
With the score tied 2-2, fans expected a huge third period, but surprisingly it was pretty uneventful. The Canes only managed one shot on goal for the entire period and were out-shot 8-1. The defense did a good job of limiting scoring chances, and Cam Ward came up big when he had to.
Our previously mentioned impartial referee, Mr. Watson must have decided to keep a better eye on the number of players on the ice after the Canes complained about the earlier non-call, because he called the Hurricanes for yet another "two many men on the ice" penalty, this time with only 15 seconds left in the game.
It was Carolina's third penalty of the third period, a time when referee's usually "swallow their whistles".
Of course the penalty carried over to the overtime period and usually a four on three advantage means "lights out" for the short-handed team. But once again, the Canes were equal to the task and were able to kill the penalty as well as generate a couple chances of their own later in the extra period.
The overtime ended in a tie and then came the dreaded shootout.
I mention "dreaded" because the Hurricanes have not done well in these skill contests in the past 3 seasons. After going 8-2 during 2005-06, the team has gone 0-5 in 2006-07, 2-3 in 2007-08, and 0-1 so far this year. Cam Ward had a personal record of 2-8 while tending goal in these affairs. (now 3-8).
While Ward may have had his issues in net, the Carolina shooters had trouble finding the back of the net as well. In five shootout attempts during all of 2006-07, the Canes only mustered one goal the entire season. The team hadn't scored in a shootout yet this season, but Tuomo Ruutu and Rod Brind'Amour changed that for Carolina this time around as both beat Mike Smith with shots up high.
(hat-tip to Wylde4canes for sending me these stats)
Cam Ward stopped Vinnie Lecavalier and "hired gun" Jussi Jokinen hit the post to secure the Hurricanes victory.
The game was not always a thing of beauty, but it was a much-needed win and the team will take it and move on.
After-thoughts and observations-
Perhaps Wade Brookbank should get more than a minute or two of ice time each game? Dan LaCouture had knocked in two goals from in close with minimal ice-time. Players who bang inside and look for rebounds can be just as valuable as a team's fastest skaters.
Eric Staal and Sergei Samsonov are not the only quiet players for the Canes. What has happened to Matt Cullen? Many of the defensemen have scored more points than Cullen and Samsonov combined, but these forwards are being well compensated and are being counted on to produce. It hasn't happened yet.
How would Brandon Sutter look as third line center? He brings more of a physical presence than Cullen and has equal the points, with a lot less playing time.
Two "too-many men on the ice" penalties are inexcusable, even if Brad Watson is the referee. The second one could have easily cost Carolina the game. In general, some of the line changes look unorganized and need to be faster.
Coming from behind to win could be something to build on and might just bring this team together.