The Carolina Hurricanes return home to the RBC Center, having survived an odd two-week road series that alternated long breaks with back-to-back games, culminating with a 3-2 shootout win over the Atlanta Thrashers on Thursday night. The win afforded the Hurricanes their first three-game winning streak and four-game point streak of the season. The Hurricanes have now played six games in the month of December and have come away with an impressive 9 out of a possible 12 points and now have a record of 14-12-4 with 32 points through 30 games.
It took 65 minutes plus six shooters to resolve the latest contest. The game marked the second night in a row where the Hurricanes had to play from behind after giving up the first two goals to the Thrashers, and with a similar game the night before perhaps the team has begun to reverse the trend of posting a loss after giving up the first goal(s) of the game.
Both teams created several scoring opportunities in the first period but were unable to convert. The most notable play of the period was a hard hit by Ben Eager on Jiri Tlusty along the boards. Eager's hit was from behind and well after the puck had left Tlusty's stick, and he was penalized for charging. Tlusty left the ice and did not return, and it was reported afterwards that Tlusty left the arena with his left arm in a sling. Paul Maurice commented that his status is "longer than day-to-day", and presumably the Canes will see a call-up at his forward slot prior to the next game on Saturday.
The Hurricanes were unable to take advantage of Eager's absence as the penalty was quickly negated by an Erik Cole tripping penalty on the ensuing faceoff, then Jeff Skinner was also called for tripping to create a long 4-on-3 disadvantage. The penalties were defended well and the Thrashers were unable to capitalize. Late in the period the 'Canes got their own power play opportunity with a goaltender interference call but were also unable to convert. Cam Ward was tested with an 18-10 shot advantage for the Thrashers that included several quality chances.
The intensity began to pick up early in the second period. At the 2:12 mark (or as Chuck Kaiton referred to it on the radio broadcast, the "boiling point"), Troy Bodie challenged Ben Eager to answer for the hit on Tlusty and the two came to blows. Both players were given 5-minute penalties for fighting, but Eager was given an extra 10-minute misconduct for continuing the fight and for lobbing a few extra comments at the Carolina bench. The Hurricanes seemed to gain momentum from the fight with good puck cycling and extended possession and held an early 6-1 shot advantage but were unable to find the back of the net. The momentum then shifted back to the Thrashers and nine minutes into the period, with Erik Cole in the penalty box for holding, Tobi Enstrom scored an apparent goal that was waved off for incidental goaltender contact. Less than 10 seconds later, Evander Kane wasted no time and beat Cam Ward blocker side for the game's first goal. The Thrashers scored again with barely more than a minute left in the second period, with Ward stopping multiple changes from a healthy scrum around the net before Anthony Stewart finally banged it home. By the end of the period, the Thrashers had regained a 13-10 shot advantage.
A mere 26 seconds into the 3rd period, Brandon Sutter allowed the Canes to regain a sign of life. Tuomo Ruutu fed the puck to Jamie McBain for an attempt from the point that was saved by Chris Mason, but Sutter was able to push in the rebound to cut the lead to 2-1. Later in the period the Hurricanes were able to survive a holding penalty on Joni Pitkanen. After Cam Ward made a spectacular save on Evander Kane, Eric Staal, double-shifting due to the Tlusty injury, surprised Chris Mason at the other end of the ice with a quick shot glove-high to tie the score. Joni Pitkanen was credited with the lone assist.
Unable to break the tie in regulation, the teams played through an overtime period that was without a single whistle for stoppage, matching intensity at both ends of the ice.
In the shootout, the Thrashers chose to shoot first, and Nik Antropov scored on his attempt but attempts by Bryan Little and Dustin Byfuglien were both stopped by Cam Ward. Jeff Skinner was unable to get off the shot in his attempt, but Jussi Jokinen and Sergei Samsonov both converted to seal the win for the Hurricanes.
Post-game audio courtesy of the Hurricanes:
- Cam Ward was once again outstanding in net, saving 45 of 47 shots for a stellar .959 save percentage. While he was not awarded one of the games three stars by the Atlanta media, he was awarded the first star of the night on nhl.com.
- Young Evander Kane had an impressive night for the Thrashers including 8 shots on goal, 1 goal, and 1 assist.
- For the second game in a row, Bryan Rodney saw limited ice time in Jay Harrison's absence. Rodney had only two shifts in the third period and did not take the ice during overtime.
- Tim Gleason led the Hurricanes with 7 hits, followed by Tuomo Ruutu with 4.
- This game was the first of six divisional meetings between the two teams. The next game against the Thrashers will be January 9th at the RBC Center.
- The Hurricanes will have a day off before facing the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday evening at the RBC Center.