A quiet start turned into a downhill finish for the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night at PNC Arena.
Down 1-0 to the New Jersey Devils late in the second period, the Canes rode three goals in just over six minutes of game time to cruise to a 3-1 win in front of a crowd of 12,578.
"Guys are learning and getting better," said Canes captain Eric Staal. "We've got young guys back there that, some nights as you start the game, are a little nervous moving the puck. As they get comfortable, as the game goes on, they get better. Tonight was one of those nights."
You pretty much know what you're going to get in a Devils/Hurricanes game, and the first period lived up (down?) to expectations. A minute into the game Travis Zajac took off on a breakaway, but Cam Ward kicked out the chance, then the Canes came back down and nearly scored themselves.
Aside from a Scott Gomez disallowed goal that was the most obvious high stick ever, there wasn't much going on until a mid-period power play put the Devils on the board. Ron Hainsey couldn't clear the puck past Mike Cammalleri, and his long wrister was tipped in by Patrik Elias, he of a point-per-game career number against the Canes, at 11:04.
At the other end, Devils goaltender Keith Kinkaid was the beneficiary of a good number of blocked shots in front of him. The Canes were doing what they could to get around the Devils' solid defense, but had no luck despite 24 shot attempts, eight of which were blocked and nine which made it on goal.
At times in the second period this writer found himself wondering what he would write about. To call it uninspired is a drastic understatement. Routine saves, no penalties, plenty of neutral zone clogging, and not nearly enough offense for Bill Peters' liking. Off went Nathan Gerbe to the third line, up came Elias Lindholm to play with the Staals, and Chris Terry found himself on Victor Rask's wing.
That last combination paid off with 1:27 to go in the period, when on their 21st shot on goal the Canes cashed in. Terry was set up for a one-timer in the right circle and hit the bullseye high over Kinkaid's shoulder, tying the game heading into the locker room.
"Key goals at key times obviously are important," said Eric Staal. "Terry's was a big one, and then we went from there."
Unfortunately for anyone who was leisurely in returning to their seat following the second intermission, Eric Staal scored what became the game-winning goal just nine seconds into the third period, collecting a rebound of a long shot by Ryan Murphy and driving the net to beat Kinkaid. The goal was tied for the second fastest in franchise history to start a period, behind Ron Francis' goal at :08 of the third period in a 1984 game against Edmonton and right there with Shane Willis' goal which opened the scoring in a 2000 game against Ottawa.
"You've been down one, so within two minutes [of game time] you've erased the lead," said Peters. "You go down 2-0 against this team, you're probably in a little trouble. I give the guys all the credit in the world for sticking with it."
Justin Faulk then doubled the Canes' lead five minutes later, a long slap shot off a pass from new defense partner John-Michael Liles that snuck through a screen and past Kinkaid at 4:58. Faulk's 47th point of the season set a new Hurricanes record for defensemen, previously held by Joni Pitkanen, and his 15th goal pulled him within one of Anton Babchuk's franchise record.
Despite the drastic upturn in form under the new coaching staff, both Faulk and Peters said that what the defenseman is doing is totally of his own making. "I just kind of decided [to take more shots]," said Faulk. "I don't know why. Obviously it worked out alright. I just thought it would be better to get pucks to the net as opposed to throwing it around the boards."
From there, the Canes simply had to hang on, and they controlled play the rest of the way, despite Lindholm and Jordan Staal inexplicably botching a two-on-none with the net empty six minutes from the final horn.
Lou Lamoriello pulled Kinkaid for the extra skater with more than two minutes remaining, but it didn't pay off despite some nice passing and the Canes took their second straight win, this one splitting the season series with the Devils.
The Canes return to action tomorrow in a rare home back-to-back, facing the Boston Bruins in a 5:00 start.