The Carolina Hurricanes came back twice from deficits to overcome the San Jose Sharks, 4-3, in a shootout last night at the HP Pavilion. The game wasn't always a thing of beauty for the visitors. At times they seemed to be stuck in their own end for minutes at a time, their backup goalie was scrambling, and their team leader, Eric Staal, could not return to play in the third period.
Regardless, the team held on through the first two periods, then took over the third to force overtime. After a scoreless overtime, the Canes scored on two out of three shots to win the shootout and claim victory.
The Sharks took a 1-0 lead at the 12 minute mark of the first period on a Ryane Clowe shot. The puck initially bounced off Joni Pitkanen and Brandon Sutter lost sight of it, leaving Clowe wide open for the rebound. The Canes were out-shot 16-9 in that period, but Michael Leighton made some nice saves and kept the contest close.
Three minutes into the second period, Alexei Semenov scored his first goal of the season giving San Jose a 2-0 lead and it looked like the rout was on. But less than two minutes later, Matt Cullen was held up as he tried to shoot on a breakaway and the Canes were awarded a penalty shot. Cullen looked like the Cullen of 2006 as he head-faked Nabokov and buried the shot, keeping the Canes in the game.
The Canes had a tough time keeping out of the penalty box in that period and were even called for too many men on the ice at one point. San Jose took advantage and scored a powerplay goal at the seven minute mark, making the score 3-1.
But once again the Hurricanes would answer. Jakub Petruzalek darted into the San Jose zone, stole the puck, and skated toward the corner. He rifled the puck toward the goal and Sergei Samsonov was able to get his stick on it and tipped it into the net. The most recent Albany callup had a very nice debut.
After two periods the Canes had been outshot, 30-16, they were behind on time of possession and scoring chances, and seemed to be a bit lucky to still be in the game. To make matters worse, their best player, Eric Staal, was suffering from a "lower body concern" and would not return to action. The team could have easily mailed in the third period and many would have understood, but instead they played their best period of hockey of the night.
They started to control the time of possession and outshot the Sharks, 9-7 for the period. Matt Cullen continued his stellar play. At about the seven minute mark, he made a blind, no-look pass to an open Ray Whitney who made no mistake, and the game was tied. The team was a bit more conservative toward the end of this game, as they did not want to be reckless like they were in Vancouver just two nights ago. They were not going to waste this point.
The overtime was pretty even as both teams had a couple of good chances, but the goalies were up to the challenge.
The Sharks had the first shot in the shootout, and Clowe missed the net. Tuomo Ruutu shot first for the Canes and buried it. Joe Pavelski also missed the net for San Jose, and then Matt Cullen lost control of the puck on his chance. Milan Michalek made a nice move and scored on his chance, but Sergei Samsonov made his patented backhander and gave the Canes the improbable, gutsy win.
The Canes will close out their road trip in Phoenix on Saturday night. Will Eric Staal be able to play?
Anton Babchuk was named the game's first star. The unlikely hero had a rough beginning to the game, but led the team with 6 blocked shots and looked good in the offensive end as he aggressively took multiple shots from the point. A couple of them made it to the net and a couple of them dinged up the Sharks. He had almost 26 minutes of TOI.
Matt Cullen looks like an all star. The center has been at the top of his game for a few weeks now, and just seems to look better and better each game. He had a goal and an assist and has points in four straight.
Jakub Petruzalek looked very good in his NHL debut. He had a beautiful assist, won 67% of his faceoffs, (4 of 6), and finished with a plus one. What can he do for an encore?
Michael Leighton looked a bit shaky at times, but battled and hung in there. His positioning was very sound during the shootout as he held his ground and did not give the shooters much open net to fire at. He finished with 37 saves on 40 shots, not too shabby for not having played in almost two months.
Tim Gleason blocked five shots and had a very sound game defensively.
Frank Kaberle only played 5 minutes in this contest.
Joe Corvo led all skaters with over 32 minutes of TOI. Joni Pitkanen had 29.
Tuomo Ruutu led both teams with 4 hits and also won 5 of 8 faceoffs. The Finn never takes a night off.
The rest of the team did not fare as well in the faceoff circle as the team total was 38%. Cullen won 4 of 14 while Staal won 4 of 13.
The whole team deserves a star for hanging in the game and for turning it up in the third period. Can this performance give them something to build on for the rest of the season?