Ward Shines as Canes tip Blues, 2-1

Cam Ward made 30 saves on 31 shots as the Carolina Hurricanes were able to fend off a furious third period St. Louis rally, and held on to beat the Blues 2-1 last night at the RBC. A couple of his saves were spectacular as the visitors out-shot the home team by a 16-9 margin in the decisive final period.

The game started off a bit ominously as Joni Pitkanen was called for an interference penalty just 15 seconds into the contest. The Canes killed off the penalty though and started to dominate, much like they have done early in other contests since the coaching change.

Just a bit later in the first period, the Canes scored while on their first powerplay. Sergei Samsonov fired a puck on net which hit Tuomo Ruutu in the chest area. Instead of trying to hit the puck in the net himself, which is probably a natural inclination for most players, Ruutu made a very unselfish play. He simply scooted the puck over to an open Eric Staal, who flicked it up into the net.

The goal was Staal's 18th of the season, tops on the Canes.

The play reminded me of Samsonov's very first point of the season when he fired a shot off of Staal's chest and the future captain tipped in the rebound himself. It would not surprise me if Samsonov was hitting teammates in the chest on purpose when they are in front of the net.

A bit later in the period, Staal was on the receiving end of a nasty hit by David Backes, who hit the center high and hard after Staal had just sent the puck in the Blues zone. Last year's All-Star MVP looked shaken up and skated slowly to the bench, then went directly into the dressingroom seeming to favor his shoulder. Much to the relief of fans, the center returned shortly afterwards and was still a positive factor in the game.

The second period was a scoreless one, even though the Canes were originally given a 5 minute powerplay and had over a minute and a half of a two-man advantage. About midway through the period, Ray Whitney was carelessly pushed into the boards from behind by Tyson Strachan. The former Hurricanes draft pick was given a 5 minute "checking from behind" penalty as well as a game misconduct.

It's a good thing for both teams that he was given the misconduct because Scott Walker, Tim Gleason, and a couple of other Canes would have been after him all night. Somehow, Whitney was able to avoid a serious injury and returned to the game shortly after the incident.

Unfortunately for the Canes, Rod Brind'Amour took a penalty shortly afterwards which negated two minutes of the advantage. Although just a bit later, Carolina got another break when the Blues were called for slashing and the Hurricanes had 1:34 of time with the two-man advantage.

Staal, Whitney, Brind'Amour, Samsonov, and Corvo really couldn't generate any decent chances while moving the puck around and firing away from outside. Perhaps Pitkanen and Ruutu should be given a chance during a 5-on-3, as well as Cullen?

Knowing they were lucky the score was only 1-0, the Blues came out loaded for bear in the third period. They kept almost constant pressure in the Hurricanes zone, opening up a shots on goal advantage of 5-1, then taking an 8-2 advantage by the 11 minute mark. It almost seemed like the Canes were killing penalties, even though technically they weren't.

Finally, Eric Staal had seen enough and drew a hooking penalty while skating into the St. Louis zone. During the ensuing powerplay, Anton Babchuk became the hero as he knocked in a shot at the backdoor to give the Canes the all important 2-0 lead.

The goal would turn out to be the game-winner as Ward allowed a wraparound chance at the other end just 51 seconds later.

Again, the Blues would mount some serious pressure, but Ward and the Hurricanes defense were able to make the slim, 2-1 margin hold up. The goalie would be the game's number one star, with honors also going to Ruutu and Babchuk.

After the game Ward said that he felt great, he felt healthy, and he was physically ready to continue playing. There is no doubt that he will be in net for the next game in Tampa.

Babchuk's goal was the third point in three nights for him, which is currently the longest streak on the team. The defenseman mentioned in the dressingroom that he was feeling more comfortable because of the additional minutes he's been playing. He is looking more and more for his shot on the powerplay.

Coach Maurice was pretty happy in the post-game press conference. When asked about the slow third period, he did not seem concerned. He said that the Blues team was the same one that defeated San Jose a few games ago, and they were perfectly capable of playing good hockey. He was not going to apologize for the game's final results.

Next up for the Canes is Tampa Bay on Saturday night.

Game Notes-

The Canes ramped up the hitting for this game and matched the Blues physicality. While the scoresheet had 26 hits for Carolina, it only had 11 for St. Louis, which does not seem correct. Scott Walker led the way with six hits.

Ruutu and Samsonov each had two assists.

The Canes should be concerned with their slow third period performance, which is getting to be the norm for them. If Cam Ward was not standing on his head, the results could have been much different.

Rod Brind'Amour was back on the ice for over 20 minutes this game while Ryan Bayda and Brandon Sutter only had five minutes each. The captain played during the entire 5-on-3 sequence.

While Ray Whitney and Eric Staal both took viscous hits but continued to play in the contest, Patrick Eaves was injured at some less obvious point in the game and could not return. It is reported that he has an upper body injury.

Need a timeout late in a game, but you have already used your one allotted? Remember this trick that Blues coach Andy Murray used. Wanting to organize a play with about a minute left in the game, he changed goalies. The players were all huddled around Murray as Manny Legace warmed up, preparing to take Chris Mason's spot in goal. The Canes foiled the play though, whatever it was supposed to be.

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