Last night, the real Carolina Hurricanes finally showed up. Unfortunately, it took until nearly the third period for it to happen.
Toronto walked from the RBC Center with a 6-4 victory, but not before blowing a 4-0 lead to a Hurricanes team that didn't come alive until late in the second period.
Maple Leafs winger Jason Blake haunted former coach Paul Maurice with five points, registering a hat trick and adding two assists, including a helper on Tomas Kaberle's game-winning power play goal with 5:25 left in the game. He then tacked on an empty-netter to complete his hat trick.
Cam Ward was average at best, allowing five goals on just 23 shots, but there was plenty of blame to go around en route to the four-goal deficit. Toronto opened the scoring with an Ian White power play goal at 12:43 of the first, and then Blake got his second point and first goal of the night early in the second period on a wraparound effort that Ward failed to stop at the opposite post. A Joe Corvo turnover led to the game's third goal, Niklas Hagman's 12th of the season. When Blake scored his second of the game, it was 4-0 nothing and Carolina seemed on their way to a third-straight blowout loss. But Matt Cullen's goal with 89 seconds left in the period sparked the team and began the onslaught that would eventually tie the game.
Tuomo Ruutu fired a sneaky wrist shot past Toronto goalie Vesa Toskala — a shot he should've stopped — 1:21 into the third, and Eric Staal's power play goal just more than three minutes later put the Canes within one. The third line struck again to tie it, with Scott Walker and Cullen whacking away in front of Toskala, with Walker getting the last stick on the puck for the tying marker.
But despite a revitalized crowd and immense momentum, the Canes were unable to prevent the Leafs' go-ahead goal. With the teams playing four-on-four with Dennis Seidenberg and Matt Stajan in the box on matching roughing calls, Tim Gleason — in his first game back from an ankle injury — took a high sticking penalty that gave Toronto a four-on-three advantage. Kaberle connected less than a minute into the power play to give the Leafs the lead for good — and Carolina its fourth straight loss.
- Canes Country scout Adam and I were lucky enough to park near two vans that happened to serve as the tailgate boundaries for Winston-Salem brewers Foothills Brewing. As soon as our doors opened up they were inviting us over for free beer and brats, plus some shelter from the bitter wind between their branded vans. We tried two of their beers (Hoppyum IPA and People's Porter), plus met their crew and some others who made their way over to enjoy the free food and drinks. A HUGE thanks to the Foothills gang for their hospitality and kindness. They mentioned they'd done a free tailgate before and expect more in the future. Hopefully we can keep everyone here in the know about when they'll be in the area in the future. Here's a list of places you can find their beers on tap and try them out. As two people who have had plenty of different beers over the years, Adam and I definitely recommend both we tried, plus you can be assured that money gspent on their beer goes to a good group of people.
- Maurice's initial line shuffling didn't shake off the team's offensive doldrums, but some late-game changes seemed to pay off. The coach reunited Staal, Ruutu and Sergei Samsonov and tried several different combinations with the other three lines.
- Brandon Sutter looked great, getting a couple good scoring opportunities and showing some physicality in nearly eight minutes of ice time. To earn more ice time, however, Sutter needs to be better than 1 for 10 on faceoffs. Patrick Eaves also seems to be totally healthy and trying to earn a bigger role among the forwards.
- Cullen finished with a goals and an assist, and usually his big games come in bunches. Expect — and hope for — more contributions out of him leading up to the All-Star break.
- Despite being a minus-2 and limping off the ice after attempting a late-game hip check, Gleason looked like the most motivated guy on the ice for Carolina. He played more than 21 minutes, had five hits and blocked a couple shots. Gleason said after the game that he was OK despite not returning after leaving the ice, and also had a few choice words for the team's start-of-the-game efforts and his "stupid" late penalty that led to the game-winning power play.
- Ruutu was flying around looking to hit anything from the drop of the puck.
- A pretty packed house that was announced at 18,037.
- This should be worth about 10 bullet points. For the third straight game, the team looked uncommitted to making the effort it takes to win in the NHL. While their four-goal spurt tied the game, the effort prior to that didn't warrant any points.
- Maurice's starting line combinations were a flop, perhaps contributing to the slow start that sputtered to a stop once Toronto scored the game's first goal.
- Ward didn't do much to help the Canes' cause, looking especially bad on Blake's wraparound goal.
- Carolina allowed goals on both Maple Leafs power plays.
- Niclas Wallin looked slow and played only one shift in the third period. He finished with just 8:05 of ice time.