For 57 minutes on Saturday night, Cam Ward looked like he might steal two points for the Carolina Hurricanes with a masterful performance. A late equalizer got the New York Rangers back to level terms, and the shootout saw the Canes fall 3-2 in front of 13,329 at PNC Arena.
"I don't think we got going at all, period," said Canes coach Bill Peters. "For the first three periods, they outskated us. I didn't think we were very dangerous. We didn't hang onto it very much, so you're just hanging on. For some reason tonight we never got started."
Ward, though, came to play from the opening faceoff. A bang-bang sequence less than two minutes in saw him deny Mats Zuccarello with a kick save on an unchecked wrister from about eight feet. Later, the Rangers' seventh shot of the period was a Kevin Hayes shot that beat Ward but was cleared off the line by Brett Bellemore. The Canes broke out with a two-on-one, and Nathan Gerbe found Chris Terry for his second goal in as many games to give the Canes a 1-0 lead against the run of play.
Ward kept up his strong play later in the period, stopping Chris Kreider with a toe save late and powering the Canes to the locker room with a 1-0 lead despite spending what seemed like endless shifts in their own zone.
To start the second, the story was again Ward, who stoned Rick Nash as the Rangers were killing a penalty five minutes in. At one point, the Canes' power play, now mired in a 2-for-28 slump since the beginning of December, were being outshot 3-0 when up a man.
"We got outworked" on the power play, Peters said simply.
Meanwhile, Ward's heroics continued. A poke check on an attempted Nash centering pass. A kick save on Zuccarello. A glove snare of a Kreider wrister. At one point in the second period, the Canes went ten minutes without a shot on goal, and it didn't matter because Ward was saving the team's bacon at the other end.
"I just [tried] to do my own job," said Ward. "When the team's not at their best, you have to give them a chance and come up with some timely saves. After the first period, to be up 1-0 was a bonus, and we got better as the game went along, but we weren't good enough."
The luck ran out for Ward at 4:03 of the third period. On a power play, J.T. Miller split the Canes' defense between Justin Faulk and Andrej Sekera and stretched around Ward to put the Rangers on the board. Less than thirty seconds later, though, Jeff Skinner put the Canes back on top with a harmless-looking backhand that somehow became a softer than soft goal through Henrik Lundqvist's five-hole.
Dan Boyle looked to tie the game with seven minutes left, but Ward had lost his helmet in the crease - or, rather, he lost his own helmet. As Boyle was winding up a slap shot, Ward knocked his own helmet off, unnoticed by the officials. It risked a delay-of-game penalty, but referee Rob Martell only saw Ward helmetless, which killed the play and Boyle's goal was immediately waved off.
Ward said after the game that the strap on his helmet came loose after a crease collision and the mask came off as a result, a fortuitous turn of events that denied the Rangers the tying goal.
However, just as it looked like the Canes were going to steal two points, Kevin Klein gave the Rangers life with 2:23 left. Through a screen, Klein knuckled a shot through traffic and past Ward, tying the game and eventually recovering a point for the Rangers as regulation ended with the score tied at 2.
A wide-open overtime solved nothing, and the Rangers earned the bonus point after Zuccarello and Derek Stepan scored in the skills competition to give them the win.
Despite the loss, Peters said that Ward was the reason the Canes were anywhere near a result tonight. "I've come to expect it," he said. "I think he's been playing well since early November. He's been excellent, and he stole us a point here tonight. Would have been nice to get the other one, but it didn't happen."
With the Canes now on the road until a day-after-Christmas showdown with the Pittsburgh Penguins, they'll need to get up off the ground level, Peters said. "They don't want to change much, if anything. We've got to come up to the speed of the game. We've got to get our level picked up."
"When you have a lead late in the third period and they score with two minutes to go, you can't help but feel that you let a win slip away," said Ward. "We seemed to be a step behind tonight, and it's unfortunate to once again lose in the shootout."
- Both games the Rangers and Hurricanes have played this year have gone to a shootout won by New York. The Canes have yet to win in three shootouts this season, while the Rangers are 2-4 with both wins against the Canes.
- Terry's two-game goal streak comes after an eleven-game NHL scoreless streak that surrounded a conditioning assignment to the Charlotte Checkers. "We're a team looking for offense, and he's a guy who provides offense," said Peters of Terry. "He deserves to play with good players and valuable minutes."
- Justin Faulk extended his team-high points tally with his 20th tonight, assisting on Skinner's goal for his 14th assist of the year, also a team high.
- Don't look now, but Elias Lindholm quietly has a three-game point streak. His December has been disappointing, especially held up next to his red-hot November, but his play has started to come around and his points totals reflect it.
- After the game, the Canes activated Alexander Semin from injured reserve and reassigned Justin Shugg to the Checkers (press release below). Peters hinted at roster changes for tomorrow's game with a sly grin at the postgame press conference, and it looks like that will come to pass.
- Click for postgame audio from Cam Ward , Jeff Skinner and Bill Peters .
Canes Country Three Stars
3. Jeff Skinner: The most dangerous player on offense for the Canes tonight. Skinner was all over the place, and while the goal he scored was thanks to a Charmin-soft effort by Lundqvist, it was just rewards for a dominant game. He had Lundqvist beat in the shootout but just missed to the right of the post.
2. Mats Zuccarello: Every time you looked up tonight, Zuccarello was making something happen. He set up Miller at the blue line for the Rangers' first goal and scored the opening goal in the shootout that proved to be the winner. It seemed like he had a scoring chance on almost every shift he played.
1. Cam Ward: What, you expected Brad Malone? Ward was the reason the Canes got even a point, and his play deserved two points even though the rest of the team's play didn't come anywhere near that level.
Next up: The Canes head to Manhattan tomorrow for a rematch with the Rangers, and will stay in town until Tuesday when they face the Devils.
HURRICANES ACTIVATE SEMIN FROM INJURED RESERVE
Justin Shugg reassigned to AHL’s Charlotte Checkers
Ron Francis, Executive Vice President and General Manager of the National Hockey League’s Carolina Hurricanes, today announced that the Hurricanes have activated forward Alexander Semin from injured reserve. The team also reassigned forward Justin Shugg to the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League (AHL).
Semin, 30, has missed the Hurricanes’ last five games with a lower-body injury. The Krasnoyarsk, Russia, native has scored one goal and earned five assists (6 points) in 21 games this season. Semin (6’2", 209 lbs.) is in his third season with Carolina since signing with the team as a free agent in July 2012.