One of those hockey truisms that no one's really sure whether or not it holds water is that the first game back home after a long road trip is that the home team can come back rusty and try to put on a show for the home fans. The Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night took a little while to get warmed up, but they hit their stride about halfway through and sent a sellout crowd home happy with a 3-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The fireworks started early on Valentine's Day, as Kevin Westgarth and Colton Orr dropped the gloves 2:05 into the game for a split decision. The Leafs controlled play for long stretches of the first, but continually gave the Canes chances in the offensive zone with a series of icing calls. The Canes were unable to capitalize, and the first period ended scoreless with each team taking eight shots on goal.
Joe Corvo opened the scoring at 6:06 of the second period, firing home a garbage goal that Eric Staal kept alive at the side of the Toronto net by pool-cueing the puck out to Corvo in the slot. The goal added another tally to Staal's point streak, which now stands at 11 games with 17 points in that stretch. Just under two minutes later, the Leafs tied the game courtesy of Nazem Kadri, who was part of a double-deflection on a Dion Phaneuf point shot that also bounced off Canes defenseman Jamie McBain at the top of the crease.
From there, the Canes started to catch fire. Jussi Jokinen, who was stuck in a goal-scoring drought before Tuesday's game in New Jersey, scored in his second straight game, a rebound goal after Leafs goaltender Ben Scrivens lost track of the puck at 12:58. Jokinen immediately celebrated his goal by losing his balance along the far boards and falling square on his rear end, a noteworthy accomplishment for which I'm sure Mrs. Jokinen is most proud.
With an assist on Jokinen's goal, Corvo, who was wearing the alternate captain's A in the absence of Tim Gleason (lower-body), notched his second two-point night in the last week.
Jordan Staal got in on the fun at 15:09, finishing a rush started by Jeff Skinner, who also had two assists on the night. The Canes continued to take it to the Leafs, who looked a combination of gassed and frustrated, culminating in a rather brainless Dion Phaneuf roughing penalty at the end of the second period that gave the Canes a 5-on-3 on fresh ice to start the third.
The power play went by the wayside without a goal, but the Canes owned the play in the third period, outshooting the Leafs 12-5 in the period on their way to a 33-23 tally for the game. Dan Ellis made another strong start, stopping 22 shots and looking very comfortable doing so as the Canes won their third in a row, improving their Southeast Division-leading record to 8-4-1.
- Defenseman Michal Jordan, playing his first NHL game in front of his wife and baby, played 12:18 while paired with erstwhile Charlotte teammate Bobby Sanguinetti. While the conditions of Jordan's recall weren't ideal, what with the flight in from Chicago in the middle of the afternoon where the Checkers were preparing for a game tonight, he held his own and only really looked out of place once, when he lost track of the puck near the Toronto net. Otherwise, a very nice debut for the Canes' 2008 4th-round pick.
- Staal's 11-game point streak is the longest in the NHL this season, and is the Canes' longest streak since Staal had a 12-game point streak in February and March of last year.
- Ellis has started two games at PNC Arena this season, winning both while stopping 55 of 56 shots and sporting a cool 0.50 GAA on home ice.
- This is the first time in nearly two years the Hurricanes have won 5 out of 6 games. They went 5-0-1 in late March and early April of 2011, before losing to Tampa Bay in the final game of the season to miss the postseason.
- Chad LaRose was a healthy scratch for the first time this season, clearing out a spot in the lineup for Westgarth and giving Tim Wallace the opportunity to play with Jussi Jokinen and Drayson Bowman. Wallace nearly made it count, tipping a Bowman shot just wide in the first period. We'll see if the motivational tactic works for LaRose as well as it has for Corvo, who has five points in four games since a stint in the press box early last week.