Ray Whitney scored a hat trick and the Carolina Hurricanes dismantled the Calgary Flames at the RBC last night, 6-1. It was the fourth home win in a row for the Canes as they jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first period and never looked back.
The game was also the homecoming of fan favorite Erik Cole, who had just returned to Raleigh after his brief sabbatical in Edmonton. The winger did not disappoint as he led the team with five hits, drew a couple of penalties, and scored a goal in his debut.
After a tight beginning to the game, Ray Whitney got the Canes off to the start they wanted as they scored on the first powerplay of the contest at about the 15 minute mark of the opening period. Rod Brind'Amour made a nice play keeping control of the puck and passed it over to Sergei Samsonov, who then made a perfect feed over to a wide open Whitney. "The Wizard" made no mistake.
Less than three minutes later, Samsonov made a another very pretty play and darted in to steal the puck as the Flames were exiting their zone. The winger was able to gain control and skated in unimpeded toward goalie Curtis McElhinney then faked the netminder out easily, putting the Canes up 2-0.
At this time the Hurricanes were flying and were able to sustain decent pressure in the Calgary zone. Anton Babchuk let one of his signature blasts fly from the point, but the puck hit the post. After a tough battle in front of the net, Eric Staal was able to knock the puck and Erik Cole finished the job by sticking into the net. That made the score 3-0 and the red hot home team had scored their three goals in less than four minutes.
In the second period, the Flames lost their composure and took too many penalties. During a 5-on-3 advantage, Ray Whitney notched goal number two, making the score 4-0.
Later in the period, Scott Walker wristed a nice shot past McElhinney for his first goal since the return from his 15 game hiatus. The second period ended 5-0 and you had the feeling things would start to get chippy in the third.
The Flames did not disappoint, but to the Hurricanes credit, they did not back down. Just two minutes into the third, Dennis Seidenberg took a run at one of the Flames in the neutral zone and was immediately jumped by Eric Nystrom. The Flame earned himself an instigator penalty and a fighting major, to go along with a 10 minute misconduct.
At about the four minute mark "The Wizard" finalized his hat trick, which also happened to be his 300th career goal. Linemates, Matt Cullen and Chad LaRose got the assists.
Just a couple of minutes after that, all hell broke loose to the left of Cam Ward. Jerome Iginla and Eric Staal mixed it up, and then Tim Gleason jumped into it. Gleason threw his gloves down and challenged the Calgary captain, but Iginla wisely skated away.
For the next few minutes players were taking runs at each other, but at the nine minute mark, Jim Vandermeer finally threw down with Tim Conboy, and things quieted down a bit after that. Conboy accounted for himself very well as he held his counterpart in tight while he was able to land a few blows. At the end of the bout he picked up VanDermeer and slammed him on his back, leaving little doubt as to who the victor was.
The rest of the affair was uneventful until the puck jumped Gleason's stick allowing Ignila to break free into the Hurricanes zone. The superstar beat Cam Ward, ruining the shutout bid with less than four minutes remaining in the game.
All in all it was an excellent showing by the Hurricanes as they took advantage of a tired team who was playing their third game in four nights. Still, Calgary is one of the better teams in the league and it's quite an accomplishment to defeat them in such dominating fashion, no matter how tired they might have been.
It would be hard to top that game from a fan's perspective. There were several goals, two fights, and the excitement of having Erik Cole return. The fans gave him several nice ovations and John "Forslund's Focus" was about Cole, which was a timely tribute.
Speaking of the crowd, it was electric. The final attendance count was not quite a sell out, but it was close. (18,107).
Sergei Samsonov was flying this game. Not only did he have a goal and an assist, he set up new linemate Rod Brind'Amour for two or three prime chances. The captain looked better, even though he was not able to capitalize on his grade A chances. The Samsonov/Brind'Amour chemistry had returned, at least for Friday night.
One game does not make a season, but the return of Erik Cole seems to bring so much extra to the Canes. He provides another physical presence on the forecheck, (besides just Ruutu). He still draws penalties. When he is willing to take the abuse in front of the net, he adds another dimension to the team. Just having another top six forward who can play is huge for the Canes. Now with Samsonov on the third line, the Hurricanes have three dangerous lines which can score at any time. (Last night, all four lines scored).
Early in the contest, it looked like Joni Pitkanen might be having an off night. Then in the second period, he promptly broke up a 3-on-1 advantage for Calgary, and made it look easy while doing it. The defenseman led all Canes with over 23 minutes of TOI and finished with a +2.
Anton Babchuk played a very steady game, had four shots on goal, over 20 minutes of TOI, and led the team with a +3.
Cam Ward was solid in net when he had to be. He certainly was not over-worked, but sometimes those games are harder than the nights when you face 40 shots.
The Hurricanes dominated the contest. For instance, at the end of the second period, they were outshooting Calgary 29-13 and had 19 scoring chances to Calgary's 6. They finished with 33 shots compared to 22 for the visitors.
As usual, Ray Whitney had a few quips in the dressingroom after the game. When asked about the return of Cole, he said that "he got a louder ovation than I did, and I got the hat trick!". When asked about his 300 goals, he said that it would not be good enough to put him in the Hall of Fame, but he was proud of it. There were some, including himself, who thought that he would never do it. Then he said while smiling, "I look over at Roddy and see what he has done. I would have to play a long. long time in this league to accomplish that."
Another note: During the post-game hoopla, Ron Francis brought a couple of youngsters into the locker room. Of all the players, who did they want to talk to? Tim Conboy.