The Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Florida Panthers last night 5-4, overcoming adversity as well as bad odds. They were playing their first full game without their captain, Rod Brind'Amour. They were playing with 2 defensemen recovering from the flu. (Tim Gleason and Joe Corvo). They were playing with 5 skaters in the lineup who had been competing in the AHL most of the year. Their starting goalie was not on top of his game, eventually having to be replaced as he allowed 3 goals on just 13 shots. They also had to overcome a 2 goal deficit in the 3rd period.
They could have very easily mailed this one in, but they didn't. It was another excellent, hard fought game that was a joy to watch.
One thing for sure, Panthers fans can't complain about officiating or "diving" in this game. The refs seemingly did everything in their power to keep Florida close, but the Hurricanes still came out on top. After Nathan Horton scored on a penalty shot giving Florida a 4-2 lead early in the 3rd period, (which I thought was a questionable call), the Canes got right back into the game on a goal by Eric Staal. Then Scott Walker apparently tied the game on a goal in a scramble in front of the net. The refs decided to take that goal off of the scoreboard though because someone seemingly brushed against Tomas Vokoun in the process. They apparently thought that Vokoun should be untouchable all night because they also called Andrew Ladd for goalie interference early in the game when it appeared that Ladd wasn't even in the crease.
Regardless, the Hurricanes ignored the questionable officiating and kept up the relentless pressure in the Florida zone all night long, eventually wearing out the tired team who put up a pretty good fight even though they had played the previous night. Carolina out-shot and out-chanced the Panthers in each and every period. Trevor Letowski ended up tying the game on a tipped in Tim Conboy shot while Ray Whitney got the game winner from a beautiful pass by Joe Corvo.
Probably feeling the pressure to contribute because of his missing team captain, Matt Cullen made his first appearance in 7 games and centered the 4rth line in an inspiring role. His hustle contributed to the first goal early in the game. Cullen was taken down behind the Panthers goal, but Wade Brookbank was there, grabbed the loose puck, and tried a wrap around chance that fooled Vokoun and slipped into the net. It was the first goal as a Hurricane for Brookbank, who is fast becoming a fan favorite.
Sergei Samsonov scored the other Carolina goal about half way through the 2nd period on kind of a flukey play. Samsonov was buzzing with the puck all night again and is a pure joy to watch skate. I don't recall seeing him play this well before he came to the Canes, but sometimes he looks like the quickest and most skilled player on the ice. What a huge pickup he has been.
While Staal, Samsonov, and Whitney were the official 3 stars, this was another game in which several different players could have been named. Trevor Letowski played a very good game. Andrew Ladd had 2 assists and had the hit of the night as he absolutely leveled a Panther behind the Florida net. He also created traffic all night long. The defense as a unit was good and Frank Kaberle looked more like the Kaberle of 2006. He led the defense in ice time and was plus 3. Keith Aucoin didn't get on the scoresheet but was all over the rink, blocking passes, creating havoc, cycling, and forechecking. I would love to see a healthy Chad LaRose play on the same line with him.
Cam Ward was relieved of his duties after allowing Nathan Horton's first goal, the 3rd of the game for Florida. In my opinion, Cam did not look sharp and it was a good move pulling him at that time. John Grahame did a fine job, only allowing the penalty shot goal to Horton in the 3rd period.
I think that the Canes have shown the most consistent, complete game efforts during the past 2 games that I have seen out of them all year. They are playing as a team. They are playing with emotion and intensity. Perhaps they are embracing the role of underdog now and using it to their advantage? The victory gives them 3 wins in a row for the first time since October. They have also won 4 in a row at home. Carolina is now back in 1st place in the division, but Atlanta, Washington, and Florida are all nipping at their heels. Next up is New Jersey at 1PM on Monday at the Rock.