For the first time in over a month, the Carolina Hurricanes outlasted another team and found a way to get into the winning column with a 5-4 shootout victory over the Minnesota Wild on Sunday afternoon. The Canes had a winless streak of 14 games going, a streak which almost had a life of it's own. But the team survived the shootout to pick up just their third win in 19 tries so far this season.
Michael Leighton got the start in goal and earned his first victory since the San Jose game on February 5, 2009. That game was also a shootout win.
After two slow starts in a row, the home team came out with jump and took an early lead in this game. Jussi Jokinen would score just 2:45 into the contest when Matt Cullen won a faceoff and Tuomo Ruutu put the puck on net. Jokinen was there for the put-back making the score 1-0.
Later in the period, Joe Corvo rifled in a shot from the blueline while on the powerplay to give the Canes a two goal lead. Bryan Rodney made a nice pass on the play to Corvo, who was on the left point.
The second period started out pretty well as Ray Whitney scored another powerplay goal with help from Brandon Sutter and Corvo. With the score 3-0, it looked like the Canes were in the driver's seat, but would it last?
The Wild scored shortly afterward on a fluky goal which was tipped in over Michael Leighton's shoulder just under the cross bar. But Brandon Sutter put the Canes back up by three as he scored his fourth goal since being called up by the Canes, another powerplay tally. Carolina had three powerplay goals in this affair.
But then the wheels would come off.
Joni Pitkanen left the game with an injury at the end of the first period and it started to show in the Hurricanes end as they had all kinds of trouble getting the puck out of their zone. Robbie Earl had played in just one game for the Wild so far this year, but he had a career day against Carolina. He was given too much time and space, had a wide open chance, and made no mistake at the 13:46 mark of the second period. It was Earl's first career NHL goal.
Just 20 seconds later, defenseman John Scott scored his first career NHL goal. It seems like several players have scored their first goals against Carolina this season.
It was the eighth time this year that a team had scored back to back goals within a minute's time span against the Canes.
The team survived the remainder of the period, but continued to struggle. Just two minutes and change into the third period, Robbie Earl scored again when an errant Joe Corvo pass bounced right out to him in front of Leighton. The Carolina goalie seemed to have no chance on that game tying goal. Corvo almost put the puck into his own net as his pass either hit the goalpost or went off his own goalie before bouncing to the Wild rookie.
Give the Hurricanes credit though, they battled back hard later in the third period and controlled play for awhile. Neither team could score though and the contest went into overtime.
Brandon Sutter had the best chance in the extra period, but failed to convert on a 2-1 advantage. Leighton held his ground at the other end and the game went to a shootout. Fans had to be asking themselves, did they feel lucky?
After Ruutu missed for Carolina and Leighton stopped Antti Miettinen, Jussi Jokinen made a nice move and flipped a backhander over Backstrom for the game winner. Mikko Koivu and Marek Zidlicky could not solve the Carolina goalie, who looked solid and confident during the shootout. Matt Cullen's attempt was stopped by Backstrom, but was not needed.
The Hurricanes are still in last place in the league, but they will take the win and try to build something with it. Can they now go streaking in the other direction? Next up is a game in Montreal on Tuesday night.
- Tuomo Ruutu was on the ice for all four of Carolina's regulation goals. He found a spot in front of the Minnesota goalie during most of that time. Ruutu earned his 100th NHL assist in the game.
- Jussi Jokinen is pure money on shootouts. He now has 25 shootout goals, the most in NHL history. Eight of them were for game winners.
- Jokinen said that he had practiced a lot against Backstrom over the summer. He was questioning himself over what move to try to make on his friend. He also told reporters that he feels the goalie has the advantage in those situations. All's well that ends well as he decided to try the backhander and it worked.
- Michael Leighton mentioned after the game that he knew this start was huge for him. He said that if he had another bad outing, this might have been his last chance. It seemed for awhile like anything that could go wrong, went wrong for him, but he stood his ground in the shootout and looked very good. He did have a couple of "uh-oh" moments during regulation where he lost track of the puck, but he pulled through it. The backup probably earned himself another start on Tuesday.
- Joni Pitkanen, (lower body), Scott Walker, (upper body), and Stephane Yelle, (lower body) each left the game early with various injuries. Coach Maurice could not give any updates after the game. Yelle showed some real guts because he hurt himself again while blocking another shot on the penalty kill. He was hurt two games ago in the same fashion.
- Brandon Sutter continues to shine. He had a couple of breakaway chances, played solid defense, and picked up a goal and an assist. The youngster now has seven points in 10 games since being called up.
The losing streak is officially over, but the Hurricanes still have a lot of work ahead of them. For now they can enjoy the win, but it's back to work tomorrow.