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Cullen and Canes Carve up Avs, 5-2

Matt Cullen scored his first ever NHL hat trick and the Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Colorado Avalanche in a 5-2 romp Sunday afternoon at the RBC.  The win was the Canes first ever over the Avs since the team moved to Carolina.

The game started off a bit auspiciously as Wojtek Wolski scored for Colorado just a minute into the game on the team's very first shot.  The Canes looked a bit flat, but Tim Conboy fought for the third time in the last three games and the crowd, as well as the team, fed off the energy.

Just a couple of minutes after the altercation, Chad LaRose and Matt Cullen teamed up for the Hurricanes first goal, and the Canes never looked back. 

The period was a very chippy one as Colorado tried to run over Carolina.  Tim Gleason had to leave the rink  temporarily as did Eric Staal.  Later in the game, Ryan Bayda was steamrolled once and Patrick Eaves was the recipient of a low blow, but each player returned to the ice to contribute to eventual victory.

Just a minute and change into the second period, Matt Cullen scored his second of the game on a wrap around.  But the Avs were able to answer that goal just a minute later when Darcy Tucker got loose in front of Cam Ward.  Then later in the period during a 4 on 4 situation, Joni Pitkanen crashed the net and put back a Tuomo Ruutu rebound for the eventual game-winner.  Pitkanen finished with a goal and an assist and played over 25 minutes in his first game back from an injury which caused him to miss the two previous games. 

After the game the defenseman was asked about the nature of his "upper body injury", but he declined to be more specific.  Of course that would indicate that he was still less than 100%.  Pitkanen did say that he felt a bit tight in the first period, but loosened up and felt better after that. 

In the third period, Ryan Bayda would score the team's fourth goal.  Then late in the game during an empty net opportunity, Ray Whitney unselfishly held the puck and waited for Cullen to get into position, then fed it to him and number 8 buried it to complete the hat trick.  Well aware of the feat, Whitney immediately skated over to the goal to retrieve the now special puck for his line mate.

After confirming that this was indeed his first NHL hat trick, he was asked if he ever had any hat tricks before he played in the NHL?  Cullen replied, "oh yeah, lots of them", as he laughed. 

Game Notes:

Once again, the Hurricanes dominated in time of possession and shots on goal.  They outshot the Avs in each and every period and finished with a 39-19 advantage, holding their opponent to under 20 shots for the second consecutive game. 

Surprisingly, Rod Brind'Amour led the team with 5 hits.  Tuomo Ruutu and Dennis Seidenberg each had 4.  The team captain also won 63% of his faceoffs, (10 of 16).

Eric Staal led the team with 3 blocked shots and also had 9 shots on goal.  The versatile center had to leave the game for a bit as he held his left shoulder while he  went to the dressing room after he was given a rough ride by Ryan Smyth.  But Staal returned and played a good game even though he finished without a point. 

The Canes have now won three games in a row and have yet to lose since recently recalling Tim Conboy.  The utility player was only on the ice for three minutes, but still finished with a plus one and was in front of the net on Ryan Bayda's goal. 

The win gives the Hurricanes 67 points and puts them right back into playoff contention.  While they are one point behind both Buffalo and Florida, they are only four points behind fourth place Philadelphia.  Montreal and the New York Rangers each have 69 points.  Another couple of wins coupled with key losses for their Eastern rivals, and the Canes could be sitting pretty.  But there is still a long way to go.

 Eastern Conference
 Team GP Pts
 1. Boston 60 88  
 2. Washington 60 81  
 3. New Jersey 60 79  
 4. Philadelphia 57 71  
 5. Montreal 60 69  
 6. NY Rangers 61 69  
 7. Florida 59 68  
 8. Buffalo 60 68  
 9. Carolina 61 67  
 10. Pittsburgh 61 64  
 11. Toronto 60 56  
 12. Ottawa 58 53  
 13. Tampa Bay 60 52  
 14. Atlanta 60 48  
 15. NY Islanders 59 42