With Canadiens parading to the penalty box – they committed 11 infractions through two periods, compared to only one for by the home team – Carolina converted just often enough to win, lifting itself over Montreal 3-2. This nail-biter included three disputed goals, a penalty shot, and special teams galore.
“It was tough to get any kind of rhythm going with all of those power plays,” Associate head coach Ron Francis, stepping in for Paul Maurice, said during the postgame. “But the guys got it done.”
The Hurricanes received five power plays in the first period and managed only five shots on Jaroslav Halak, but two of those shots turned into Eric Staal goals. The red-hot center scored his eleventh and twelfth goals of the season, putting him first in team goal scoring. Staal, who couldn’t get anything going during most of the early season, now has four goals and six points in four games under new coach Paul Maurice.
Sergei Samsonov, with whom Staal has played all year and is finally starting to stir up some chemistry with, set up the center’s first goal. The ‘Canes were able to pinch in instead of chasing the puck down the ice, courtesy of keep-in extraordinaire Joe Corvo, who earned the game’s first star. Samsonov saucered a pass to Staal, who had set up camp right next to Halak, and the puck easily found the back of the net.
“I can always score on an empty net,” Staal said, crediting his hard-working teammates.
Joni Pitkanen made a heads-up play to give Staal his second of the night, picking up a Montreal giveaway in the defensive zone and slowing down almost to a stop, holding onto the puck and waiting until Staal was at the net. He sent a pass around an incoming defenseman and Staal deflected it in off his skate to make it 2-0.
Guillaume Latendresse brought the Canadiens within one off a penalty shot that resulted from a disputed call from a referee. According to the rulebook, if a player is denied a quality scoring opportunity on a breakaway, they will receive a penalty shot. Bret Carson barely tugged at Latendresse’s midsection and the Habs winger’s hard shot just soared wide of Cam Ward, but he received the one-on-one showdown nevertheless. He blasted the puck past Ward’s shoulder, high on his stick side.
That poor call, unfortunately, turned into one of consequence, as the Canadiens completed their comeback minutes later with a shorthanded goal right off a faceoff in Carolina’s end. Robert Lang won the faceoff with the ‘Canes on the power play and quickly passed it to Alex Kovalev, who received a fortuitous bounce off Dennis Seidenberg’s back and into the net.
When asked how he saw the shot, Ward said he didn’t.
“I had a big German guy (Seidenberg) in front of me,” Ward said.
Obstructed views and German guys aside, Ward played a stellar game. He finished the game with 22 saves.
Roman Hamrlik hit an unsuspecting Eric Staal from behind and received the wrath of every Hurricane on the ice. Staal stayed down for several minutes and gingerly made his way off the ice, but remained on the bench. Hamrlik received two minutes for boarding.
Although the Canadiens finally had life, they couldn’t stop their steady march to the penalty box. With 30 seconds remaining in the Hamrlik penalty, Ryan O’Byrne was whistled for hooking and Joe Corvo made his opponents pay with a line drive from the blue line that somehow made it past Halak.
A Montreal goal was waved off after it was determined that it was batted down with a high stick, partly due to some enthusiastic reenactment by Tim Gleason. The ref was behind the play but seemed to agree with Gleason’s interpretation: no goal.
Guy Carbonneau must have had some words with his penalty-ridden team before the third period, because the Habs didn’t commit another infraction for the remainder of the game. Montreal peppered Ward with 14 shots on goal in the third, but couldn’t find the net. The ‘Canes forecheck was strong enough that Carbonneau couldn’t pull Halak until there was 30 seconds left in the game, and the Hurricanes barely held on.
“We were out there moving our feet, and most of them were hooks and trips,” Staal said. “There was nothing the ref could do but call those.”
The ‘Canes coughed up the puck with less than 20 seconds remaining in the game and gave Montreal a 3-on-1. The team left Ward out to dry, but he rolled around, blocking two shots from close in and saving the game. Staal just missed out on completing his second hat trick of the season when the puck bounced out of his reach with an empty net right in front of him.
The Hurricanes will take on those pesky Florida Panthers on Thursday, which everyone is far less excited about than the fact that it’s Eric Staal bobblehead night. The bobblehead features Staal in the middle of his signature goal celebration, mouth agape and fist in the air. The first 10,000 fans in attendance will receive one.
“…do you want one?”