Sunday night, following a lopsided loss by the Carolina Hurricanes in Vancouver, veteran defenseman Joe Corvo observed, quite rightly, that the schedule of games his team was given to start the 2010-11 season was, in a word, ridiculous. Tonight, the team boards their last cross-country flight of the season returning from Phoenix with a strong record of 4-3, including a pair of shootout and OT wins, and, most importantly, with 8 precious points in the standings.
In front of a sparse crowd in Glendale, the Hurricanes came out solid in the first period, and seemed to have as much jump as we've seen so far this year. Coach Paul Maurice was rolling four lines of forwards and each trio came out ready to play hard. The defensive corps, which has often appeared sluggish at best, and confused at worst, since returning from Europe, was for most of the game reliable and assertive. But in the extra frame, it was Ironhorse blueliner Joni Pitkanen who stole the show with his magical tour of the offensive zone, including a quick give-and-go to Jussi Jokinen, before snapping one sublime pass across the slot to a wide open Anton Babchuk. Babchuk had skated in way down low, and put the puck in cleanly, backdoor on Ilya Bryzgalov, and the 6-5 Ukrainian defenseman could claim the OT gamewinner.
The Phoenix Coyotes had stumbled out of the gate thus far this season after a trip to Europe of their own this month, and tonight's storyline seemed as much about the absence of their Captain Shane Doan, serving a suspension, and the presence of 38-year-old left wing Ray Whitney, who became a cornerstone of the Hurricanes offense in his 5 years with the team, before signing with Phoenix in July. They had gotten back on track in their last outing vs the Los Angeles Kings with Lee Stempniak posting his first career hat trick in the 4-2 win.
In tonight's game, after the first twenty minutes, this game seemed to have all the makings of a goalie duel between last years' Vezina finalist Bryzgalov and the Hurricanes' Cam Ward, with a shot count of 16 -14 (Canes up), but no tallies on the scoreboard. Then, less than 5 minutes into the 2nd period, with Drayson Bowman in the box for a hooking call, his linemate Patrick Dwyer blocked a shot in the Canes defensive zone, then raced to the puck to carry it in all alone, and with a slick move beat the Phoenix goalie. Carolina was up by one with the short-handed goal.
Five minutes later, Carolina's momentum continued to grow, as the Hurricanes were in their second consecutive powerplay when Jussi Jokinen quickly cleaned up a rebound in front of the Phoenix net and doubled the lead. Joni Pitkanen and Joe Corvo got the assists. Phoenix managed only 4 shots on goal in the period.
Early in the third the Hurricanes went up by 3, as Brandon Sutter wrestled the puck away from the Coyote defender behind the Phoenix net and made a perfect feed to a waiting Sergei Samsonov, playing in his first game after sitting the last two in California.
Phoenix continued to battle, and one wonders if the Canes were already mentally boarding the charter plane home as the game clock wound down. The Coyotes Kyle Turris, a 21-year-old center, drafted by Phoenix in the first round of 2007, broke Ward's shutout with his first of the season at the 5:45 mark, and then added further insult when he notched a second goal, with just two minutes left in the game.
Twenty-two seconds after his second, Turris hustled to again beat Ward, this time when the goalie was caught behind the net. Turris grabbed the puck off of Ward's stick to feed a waiting Scottie Upshall who made the easy drop into the empty net. Score tied with 1:40 remaining.
As OT began, Coach Paul Maurice surprised a bit when he sent out rookies Skinner and Jamie McBain with counterparts of Erik Cole and Corvo to get things going during the four-on-four. Staal and Jokinen were in the second wave with Pitkanen and Babchuk who combined on the winning goal with 2:52 remaining.
Stats of the game
Faceoffs wins continue to be the black sheep of the stats sheets, as the Hurricanes won only 32% of the draws. Eric Staal took the most puckdrops, winning 8 of 21 for 38%. Following a morning tour by Ron Francis asking for volunteers to become a Canes' centerman, Tom Kostopoulos went 2 for 5 (40%) in the circle. (I'd be willing to bet Chad LaRose was behind that, somehow.)
Shots on Goal (not including four goalpost saves that Can Ward won't get credit for) came out at 41 shots for the Canes compared to 39 for the Yotes. Phoenix scored their 3 goals in the third period on 18 shots, again, having taken only 4 in the middle frame.
Cam Ward is now sitting pretty with a record of 4-2 on the season, with a GAA of 2.78 and save % of .923. Bryzgolov was also impressive tonight and, in particular, robbed Tuomo Ruutu in the third period with a stick save we're sure to see in this week's highlights.
Jay Harrison dropped the gloves with toughguy and Twitter phenom Paul Bissonnette (@BizNasty2point0) in the second. This was the first fighting major assessed to the Canes since Kostopoulos partook back in Game 2 in Helsinki. The Hurricanes now are tied for 7th in least PIM per game at 11.4 minutes/game.
Attendance: 8,189 at Jobing.com Arena, Glendale, AZ
Three Stars (chosen prior to the end of the game)
For other stats, here are your gamesheets:
Postgame audio with
Joni Pitkanen Jussi Jokinen (1:20) who slightly mangles a classic sports mantra with "It's not over when it's not over" to aptly describe the storyline of the game.