Eric Staal's goal in the third round of the shootout Thursday night gave the Canes their first victory of the season in the skills competition, beating the Montreal Canadiens 2-1 at PNC Arena.
It took until game 81, and it came in a meaningless game, but the Carolina Hurricanes will not be the first team in the shootout era to go oh-fer in the skills competition over an entire season.
"I thought it was fitting that the way he played the second half, it was great to see him be the final shooter and score the final goal," said coach Kirk Muller.Both teams played the first period in mind-numbingly boring fashion, with the Habs showing the effect of a long flight in from Tampa the night before and the Canes unable to take advantage. Not helping the cause were five penalties, three to Carolina and two to Montreal, that broke up any hope of establishing a flow.
The Habs finally broke through first at 4:32 of the second period. Blake Geoffrion scored his second of the season on a wraparound with Cam Ward and Brandon Sutter both slow to react. Five and a half minutes later, Chad LaRose tied his career high scoring his 19th goal, a hard-working power play goal that required about four pokes before it got through Habs goalie Peter Budaj.
Cam Ward then kept the game tied with two saves three minutes apart, one a sprawling blocker save on David Desharnais after old friend Erik Cole set Desharnais up with a perfect pass, then stoning Tomas Plekanec on a shorthanded breakaway where Ward outwaited Plekanec and the Habs center was unable to elevate the puck over Ward's right pad.
Late in the third period, three straight penalties resulted in a four-on-three for the Canadiens for over a minute. One of those calls, an Andrei Markov hooking call on an Eric Staal breakaway, easily could have been whistled a penalty shot. Staal was incredulous and the fans let referees Gord Dwyer and Chris Rooney hear it, especially coming on the heels of a questionable Jaroslav Spacek holding penalty just a few seconds earlier. Later, Staal would tell the media that the officials felt he got a good scoring opportunity on the play and didn't call for the penalty shot.
The Canadiens were unable to capitalize, even after Tim Gleason took a tripping penalty with 20 seconds left, and LaRose nearly had his second as he took a stretch pass as he left the penalty box with five seconds to go. Budaj stopped him, and the 17,836 at the PNC got bonus hockey in their final game of the year.
In overtime, the Canes killed off the remaining 1:33 of Gleason's penalty, but neither team was able to capitalize and the Canes headed to the shootout for the seventh time this season. Cam Ward stopped all three Habs shooters, including Cole in the third round, and Staal's wrister beat Budaj and sent the crowd home happy.
"We definitely didn't want it to end with Erik Cole winning it in the shootout," said Ward. "That wouldn't have been fitting in our last home game."
Muller is pleased with what he's seen of his team over the four months he's been behind the bench. "All the top teams, we've played hard against them. It proved to us that if we play a hard game and at a competitive level consistently, we can play with any team."
The Canes will finish the season on Saturday at Florida, who clinched a spot in the postseason for the first time since 2000 when the Flyers defeated the Sabres Thursday night. While the Canes won't have a chance to play spoiler the way the Panthers did in 2008 when they knocked the Canes out of the playoffs in the final game of the season, they could help deny the Panthers their first-ever division title with a win plus a Capitals victory.
- The Canes won their tenth game of the season in come-from-behind fashion, and their sixth on home ice.
- Canes defenseman Bryan Allen played in his 600th career game, and his 100th with the Hurricanes after being acquired from Florida at the 2011 trade deadline.
- Assuming they all play on Saturday in Florida, four Hurricanes (Staal, Sutter, Gleason, Allen) will have played all 82 games this season.
- The Canes are riding a five-game winning streak when tied after one period.
Click for postgame audio from Eric Staal, Cam Ward and Kirk Muller.
- Following the game, the Canes announced the signing of Union College center Jeremy Welsh, who led his team to the Frozen Four this season for the first time in school history, where they lost 3-1 to Ferris State on Thursday night. Welsh will join the Canes in Florida on Friday and may see action in Saturday's game.