Coming off of back-to-back looses to the Bruins, the Carolina Hurricanes carried the play Thursday against the Rangers and came away with a convincing 4-1 win at the RBC Center. The win moves the Canes to 52 points, just two behind eighth-place Atlanta with two games in hand on the Thrashers. Here are five observations from the win.
1. Much has already said about the beauty of goal a Brandon Sutter scored — his first in 16 games — to push Carolina's lead to 3-0. What hasn't been said is Sutter may have set up the goal with an earlier shot. In the first period, Sutter moved in on Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist and flipped a backhander on him that was brushed away. On his goal, he came in on a similar angle on his backhand, then deked to his forehand before pulling the puck back and sliding a backhander between King Henrik and the post. Did Sutter's earlier shot — seemingly harmless at the time — set up his later move that led to the goal? It's hard to know without asking Sutter, but given his smarts, i wouldn't put it past him.
2. Cam Ward deserved his third shutout of the season, but a bad break cost him it. The Rangers entered the Carolina zone with speed and Brandon Prust, the eventual goal scorer, snapped a shot that was blocked by Jay Harrison. Unfortunately for the Canes, Harrison's deflection dinged the Carolina defenseman in the face, and Prust collected the puck and deposited it for New York's lone goal. It marks the eighth game that Ward has allowed just one goal and fifth time that goal game in the third period. Ward has just two shutouts this season but as you can see he could have many more.
3. It was a bounce-back effort for both Chad LaRose and Joni Pitkanen. LaRose has been hot of late, scoring his third goal in four games, but his third period penalty in Tuesday's loss to the Bruins essentially cost Carolina at least a point. The penalty took away from an otherwise good game for LaRose, but he showed no ill effects from it against the Rangers. LaRose had a goal and assist against New York and matched a season high in shots with six. Throw in four hits and contributions to Carolina's defensive effort, and LaRose was one of Carolina's most effective players.
As for Pitkanen, Carolina's No. 1 defenseman was back on his game Thursday. Pitkanen was physical, assertive and confident in 27:03 of ice time. Curiously, he was not out on the penalty kill (the Hurricanes, however, had just two minors, and one was taken by Pitkanen), but he shot the puck more than usual (two shots, three misses) and had his best performance since returning from injury.
4. It wasn't a standout performance, but Jiri Tlusty looked good in his return to the ice after missing the last month with a shoulder injury. Coach Paul Maurice used his fourth line more than usual, which meant Tlusty got some decent ice (9:32) to help him get back to the form that saw him playing well before he was hurt on a cheap shot by Ben Eager (now with the Sharks, then with Atlanta).
Between the mismanagement of his early career (by Toronto) and injuries, Tlusty hasn't had much go his way since being selected 13th overall in 2006. But with recent knee and shoulder injuries now hopefully behind him, it's time for Tlusty to show why he once deserved to be a top-of-the-draft pick. That's not an immediate ultimatum, but with the 2010-11 season more than half over and his contract up at season's end (he'll be an RFA again), Tlusty needs to prove he belongs in Carolina's long-term plans because there are many young players knocking on the door (Zac Dalpe, Zach Boychuk, Drayson Bowman, ect.).
5. Kudos to Harrison, Ryan Carter and Erik Cole for answering the bell and standing up to the frustrated Rangers. Harrison and Carter tussled with Prust and Kris Newbury, respectively, just seconds in the second period, while Cole went after Sean Avery late in the game after Avery was called for a slash. Both Cole and Avery received 10-minute misconducts. Between the willingness to drop the gloves and the recent big-time hit numbers, the Hurricanes are showing the league that they are not only willing to defend themselves but also set the game's tone with physicality. Tuomo Ruutu and Tim Gleason lead the way when it comes to finishing checks, but up and down the Carolina lineup you see players hitting the opposition. It's a mentality that will help Carolina's battle for a playoff spot and, if they make it, serve them well in the postseason.