There were over 18,000 happy Caniacs leaving the RBC Center last night. They got to watch their team play and win a very good hockey game! The Carolina Hurricanes beat the Florida Panthers 3-1 and claimed a spot back in the playoffs, however temporary it might be. They scored short-handed, on the power play, and on even terms. Yes, they scored on the power play! Yesterday, I said that they were trying hard but not doing "whatever it takes" to score. Well, apparently Scott Walker took that personally and somehow got the puck past Eddie Belfour in a bevy of humanity, with bodies lying all over the crease. Eddie the Eagle wasn't very pleased and looked immediately at the ref after the puck slowly rolled over the goal line. Belfour was flat on his back with Walker almost laying on top of him as the goal scored. Thanks Scottie, that is doing "whatever it takes!" Walker earned first star honors as that second goal for the Canes turned out to be the game winner.
Coach Laviolette switched the lines up again. Apparently a couple of players came to him after the Rangers game and they discussed line possibilities. Could Stillman and Cole have asked to play with Staal again? That trio was arguably the best line in the NHL at times last year, and they looked good again last night. They combined for the first goal of the game and there was excellent hustle from all three players. The Panthers tied the game on a weird looking play. Joe Vasicek tried to clear the puck. It looked as though it hit the linesman and came right to Stumpel. He moved around Vasicek like Joe was standing still, (because he was standing still), and fooled Grahame for the Panthers only goal of the game. Other than that, the Panthers had few if any open chances on Grahame. The defense played an excellent game. Johnny also played well, turning aside the chances that did leak through the defense, but the defense was right there to help out with any rebounds as well. Laviolette made a concerted effort to keep Gleason and Wallin on the ice whenever Jokinen was, and they limited the Panther captain to zero points for the first time this year against the Canes! They were also all over future star Nathan Horton who had been red hot lately.
The prettiest goal of the game was the final one scored by Rod Brind'Amour. While killing a penalty, Chad LaRose flicked the puck up in the air to a streaking Brind'Amour who was breaking ahead of the Panther defense. It was a perfectly placed puck by LaRose as Brindy reached forward and got his stick on the bouncing puck, knocking it past Belfour. The Canes penalty kill has been absolutely amazing lately and has only allowed a single goal in the past 43 chances.
Going back to the lines, Brind'Amour, Williams, and Whitney remained together. As I mentioned earlier, Staal, Stillman, and Cole were back together. The 3rd line was Vasicek, Ladd, and Walker. The 4rth line remained Adams, LaRose, and Letowski. Laviolette said that he was happy with the lines in the post game press conference, so we will probably see them like that again Thursday night against the Devils. Speaking of the Devils, they play against the Penguins tonight before they have to travel to Raleigh for Thursday night's game. Let's hope the Penguins soften them up a bit! More news later. Great job Canes!!