Game Analysis: Hurricanes At Lightning

The road hasn't been friendly to the Carolina Hurricanes this season, but Thursday night the Canes manhandled division foe Tampa Bay en route to a 5-2 win. Jiri Tlusty scored twice and he and his linemates, Eric Staal and Tuomo Ruutu, all had three points each, while Jay Harrison had two points in the win.

The victory moved Carolina past the Islanders — who have four games in hand on the Hurricanes — into 14th place and out of the Eastern Conference basement with 37 points. The Canes now stand at 15-23-7 and are 5-4-1 in their last 10.

Three Observations

1. Tlusty is putting together his best NHL season. He scored his eighth and ninth goal of the year Thursday and now has 17 points on the season and is on pace for 16 goals, 14 assists and 30 points. One couldn't help but wonder if Tlusty, who has a history of bad injury luck right when he seems to be getting his game going, had seen a black cat cross his path again when he took a shot off his neck or face Thursday. Luckily for Tlusty, he returned to the ice.

2. Carolina's fourth line was involved in two goals Thursday, but their best shift of the night — and perhaps the year — came with less than five minutes left in second period as Tim Brent, Anthony Stewart and Brett Sutter dominated the Lightning's top line in the Tampa end for about a minute. Not only was it a testament to the effort made throughout the lineup in the win, but with the game being the first of three in four nights, it was key to not lean too heavily on the top nine forwards.

3. The play of Andreas Nodl, Patrick Dwyer, Brett Sutter and Jerome Samson makes one wonder where Chad LaRose, who is out with an upper body injury, fits upon his return. Jeff Skinner, who is inching closer to returning from a concussion, has a top-six spot locked down when he comes back, and the Canes are getting solid bottom six play from players that make about or less than half of LaRose's $1.5 million salary this season. That's not a knock on the season LaRose is having — he's still third in goals, fifth in points, and is a reliable defensive forward — but one has to wonder where the veteran forward fits going forward.

Number To Know

3,277 — Days since, based on my research, a Hurricanes player registered a Gordie Howe Hat Trick — scoring a goal, getting an assist and earning a five-minute fighting major — until Harrison did so Thursday. Best I can tell, the last Canes player to complete the Mr. Hockey feat was Erik Cole, who fought Florida's Marcus Nilson on Jan. 23, 2003, and also had a goal and assist that night. Cole also did it the season before, fighting Pittsburgh's Dan LaCouture on Dec. 16, 2001, while notching a goal and a helper.

Plus

Jay Harrison — "Harry" registered a rare Gordie Howe hat trick Thursday, and continues to be the most pleasant surprise of the 2011-12 season. His emergence as a reliable defensive defenseman who can contribute offensively — he's on pace for about 35 points — at a bargain price ($650,000 this year, $750,000 in 2012-13) makes the idea of parting with Tim Gleason at the trade deadline a little more bearable.

Minus

Jamie McBain — McBain was directly responsible for Teddy Purcell's second-period goal that made the score 4-2, plus was on the ice for the Lightning's other goal. Furthermore, at another point in the game he fell down at the offensive blue line, springing Tampa Bay for an unsuccessful 2-on-1 rush. In what has been an otherwise decent run of late — 11 points and just a minus-2 in 18 games — McBain had an off night.

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