The Canes jumped out to a 4-1 lead, had a 29-10 shot advantage, and were dominating the contest until the Lightning struck for two quick goals at 13:17 and 14:09 of the third period to make things interesting. But Cam Ward buckled up and made a couple of grade A saves while his team battled hard around him to hold on for the win.
The Hurricanes really had their forecheck working in this game and stymied the Lightning for much of the contest. The Bolts had seven shots in the first period and only three in the second, the lowest amount the Canes have allowed in a period all season.
The Lightning would strike first when Simon Gagne scored a powerplay goal seven minutes into the game, but super rookie Jeff Skinner tied the game with a beautiful wrist shot across the grain.
Tuomo Ruutu got the primary assist but was trying to pass the puck to Joni Pitkanen, who was cutting to the net after setting up the play in the neutral zone. It looked like Pitkanen noticed that Skinner had the better shot and he wisely let the puck through.
Erik Cole gave the visitors a 2-1 lead with a powerplay goal 8:23 into the second period. Cory Stillman made a picture perfect pass and Cole was able to just guide the puck into the open net. Stillman now has nine points in 13 games since his return to Carolina.
Cole would score again in the third period as he stole the puck from Eric Brewer and backhanded it past Dwayne Roloson to make it 3-1.
Then Eric Staal would finally knock in his 30th of the season off of a Joe Corvo rebound, again during a powerplay. The team finished 2-for-6 with the man advantage.
But just when the Hurricanes probably felt like they had salted the game away, the Lightning came back hard. First, Vincent Lecavalier would score quickly after a faceoff, then Gagne scored his second powerplay goal of the game after he was set up by Martin St. Louis.
Both teams fought hard the rest of the way, but Carolina skated away with the much needed win.
The Buffalo Sabres won as well, so the Canes were able to hold ground and remain three points behind.
The Lightning and Canes will pick up where they left off for another go round on Saturday night at the RBC.
Quick Thoughts and Stats:
- The powerplay looked much better, especially after Cole's first goal. It's amazing what a bit of confidence can do.
- Joe Corvo made a nice play to get open so that his shot could reach the net on the team's second powerplay goal. Roloson could not control the rebound and Staal had a nice couple of whacks at it to get it in.
- It seemed like one of the better forechecking nights of the year for the Hurricanes. They made a concerted effort to bottle up the Lightning, and they were able to succeed much of the time. Fans would love to see more of that.
- While the forecheck was on this night and it was pretty a physical game, the team was only credited with 22 hits. Tuomo Ruutu had five, Bryan Allen had four.
- Allen had a very good game overall, but took a bad penalty late when he boarded Gagne. He comes with a reputation of being tough, but also taking inopportune penalties. It seems like he's the type of player where there is no middle ground, you have to take the bad with the good. The Canes need his physicality, so they will have to kill his penalties when they come. They were able to kill off this one.
- The Canes outshot the Lightning 39-21. Staal led the way with six. Cole and Skinner had four each.
- Skinner now has 26 goals and this particular release and placement was a thing of beauty.
- Jay Harrison led the team with four blocked shots. Will he sit Saturday night, or will Derek Joslin? Joslin finished at +1 again, extending his streak, but he took a bad penalty when he skated too close to Roloson for goalie interference, which led to a Tampa goal in the third. Although Harrison took his share of penalties earlier. Joslin had 19:07 of ice time while Harrison had 15:57. One of these guys will probably have to sit to make room Jamie McBain.
- Carolina is now 24-1-0 when leading after two periods and 29-3-4 when scoring three goals or more. The club is 23-1-1 when scoring four times or more.
- Staal won 63% of his faceoffs in this one. Overall the team was at 47%.