Twenty minutes into Sunday’s game, the Carolina Hurricanes’ two-game losing streak looked like it was 40 minutes from becoming a three-game streak. Suddenly, though, the Canes caught lightning in a bottle to the tune of three goals in four minutes, and they hung on from there for a 3-2 win over the Florida Panthers.
The Hurricanes came out skating like they got the memo that the game started an hour later than it actually did. The Panthers, fresh off a shootout win over Columbus last night in Sunrise, got through a very brief Canes flurry to start the game and got on the board first in a way that was quite unfamiliar to the Canes’ opponents recently: on the power play.
Jonathan Marchessault, who has been a scoring revelation for Gerard Gallant’s Panthers this season, became the first opposing player to score on the Canes’ penalty kill in almost a month, poking home a rebound 5:41 into the first period. It snapped a streak of 25 straight penalty kills dating back to late October.
Four minutes later, Aaron Ekblad doubled the Panthers’ lead on a bizarre pinball goal, an innocent-looking point shot that Jaromir Jagr swung and missed at in front of Michael Leighton, off whose glove the puck bounced and trickled into the net.
As if things couldn’t get worse, a couple of minutes after that the Canes lost Jordan Staal to an upper-body injury. Down arguably their top center and with a backup in net who hadn’t made an NHL appearance in more than a year, things weren’t looking too hot for the 8,124 at PNC Arena.
And then, all of a sudden, the floodgates opened.
5:21 into the second period, Matt Tennyson earned his first point as a Hurricane driving behind the net on a give-and-go with Andrej Nestrasil, then backhanding out to Viktor Stalberg who tapped home his fourth goal of the season.
Jeff Skinner followed suit 1:51 later, taking a stretch pass from Victor Rask and putting a nifty move on that froze both Aaron Ekblad and James Reimer, giving Skinner a chance to roof a backhand to tie the game. Leighton earned a secondary assist on the play, his first NHL point since a 3-2 Flyers win over the Blackhawks on March 13, 2010.
The Canes’ third goal in a span of 3:28 came on the power play from Derek Ryan, who fell down in the process of winning a faceoff but popped up just in time to fire home the go-ahead goal from the bottom of the near circle on the short side of Reimer.
At the other end, Leighton seemed to settle into the game, stoning Derek MacKenzie late in the period to preserve the Canes’ lead. After being outshot 16-9 (and it didn’t seem anywhere near that close) in the first period, they got it back to a 23-20 deficit by the second intermission.
Leighton robbed Aleksander Barkov with 13:49 to go to preserve the Canes’ lead, and he came up big again on a penalty kill halfway through the period after Jeff Skinner took a goaltender interference penalty that he, and the crowd, vehemently disagreed with. The Panthers moved the puck all over the place, their best chance coming when a Denis Malgin redirection hit the post followed by Leighton denying old friend Jussi Jokinen with the help of a Stalberg clear just as the penalty expired.
The Canes held on, with the help of a couple more big Leighton saves and a late power play, giving their goaltender his first NHL win since December 30, 2010, when he was with the Philadelphia Flyers.
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