RBC CENTER/ RALEIGH—In over a decade of existence and 13 games, the Hurricanes have never bested the Avalanche at home or away. In one of the team’s most inconsistent seasons on record, it finally managed to defeat Colorado, 5-2, and win its third in a row. Matt Cullen scored his first career hat trick and the ‘Canes crawled within one point of the 8-seed, at least temporarily.
The game was pegged as Military Appreciation Night and a large display of helicopters and armored cars were on display outside of the RBC Center for wide-eyed little boys have their picture taken in. Military personnel were given the same discount that students on College Nights receive and the different branches were seemingly grouped together in the stands. The U.S. Marines were proud but not few, and took the title of loudest and most boisterous at the game.
The Hurricanes fell behind early, just 59 seconds into the game. After a close chance on Andrew Raycroft, Wojtek Wolski (anyone who can say that five times fast receives free Independent Weekly magazines for life) snuck a shot in just inside the crossbar with Cam Ward hugging the post.
The boobirds came out early after the ‘Canes couldn’t muster one shot on goal Milan Hejduk penalty. The ‘Canes looked slow, most likely due to an intense schedule that has seen them play seven games in 11 nights. The team was given the day off yesterday to rest and forwent a pre-game skate due to the early start time.
“If you take time off the ice and your schedule is the way ours has been, sometimes your hands aren’t as sharp,” Maurice said.
On the faceoff after a hit behind the ‘Canes net sent Tim Gleason bleeding and racing for the locker room, Tim Conboy engaged Chris Stewart in his third fight in three games since being called up.
Despite looking hapless through the first seven minutes, the ‘Canes were able to tie it up when a Chad LaRose rebound found Matt Cullen standing in perfect position in front of the net.
After Ryan Bayda was nailed at center ice and wandered off to the bench, Conboy and Ray Whitney, the latter of which has never been prized for his fighting capabilities, looked like they wanted to start something, but the refs nipped it in the bud. Jussi Jokinen, who didn’t appear to be involved in the skirmish, was given an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
The Avalanche started a steady parade to the penalty box, but the ‘Canes power play just wasn’t clicking. Colorado took five minor penalties in the first period and nine total in the game.
“We had eight power plays and we didn’t get any goals, which was disappointing, but we got the two points,” Joni Pitkanen said.
During the second period, the Marine hymn was played over the loudspeaker. The song was interrupted halfway through when play began, but the “Marine sections” – sections 127 and 128 – was not finished and performed the rest of the song a capella. They were met by applause from the rest of the stadium.
Cullen struck again 79 seconds into the second period. After orchestrating a fantastic 2-on-1 with LaRose that just missed the target, Cullen tucked the puck past Raycroft on a wrap-around. It was Cullen’s No. 18 of the season and his 400th NHL point.
“It’s not hard for me,” LaRose, who received the primary assist on two of Cullen’s goals, said. “I’m just trying to go hard to the net and let Cullen do this thing.”
The lead was short-lived. Less than a minute later, Darcy Tucker was left alone in front of the Hurricanes net and he slipped the puck under a sliding Cam Ward to tie the score.
Anton Babchuk took a questionable holding penalty with under five minutes left in the period, but Staal made it a 4-on-4 after he took a spill behind the net on the penalty kill and the referees handed him a make-up call. Pitkanen gave the ‘Canes the lead after an errant rebound ricocheted off Raycroft’s pads and right to him.
The ‘Canes held the Avalanche to 11 shots through two periods, including five in the first and six in the second. Yet somehow, Carolina remained only a goal ahead. The ‘Canes entered the third period on the power play and received another just after the first one expired, but couldn’t convert.
Ryan Bayda, who couldn’t be more deserving of the opportunity as an NHL full-timer but hasn’t found the back of the net with regularity this season, gave the Hurricanes a nice cushion 8:49 into the third. Jokinen received the primary assist, which gave the masterminds behind the Jumbotron the chance to try out their newest creation: “He’s no Jokinen!” Urgh.
Staal was sprung for a wide-open breakaway just after a penalty to Darcy Tucker expired and Ruutu and Pitkanen both had open-net chances after he missed, but the Hurricanes corral the puck and get it by Raycroft.
Matt Cullen completed his first career hat trick with an empty netter. Cullen stood at the right circle and played with the puck, then fired a laser of a shot past the Av that was standing guard in front of the net. Hats rained from the stands and onto the ice as the upper levels began a “Mat-thew Cul-len!” cheer. The ‘Canes in-game announcer had to ask the ‘Canes fans to respectfully refrain from throwing money onto the ice.
The 'Canes' defense, which Cullen said is playing extremely well, gave Cam Ward a night off. The Carolina netminder faced only 19 shots.
Though its home woes seen to be forgotten, the team will take to the road, where it has won its last four, and face the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday. The Senators have lost three in a row, but the last time the teams faced, they lit up Cam Ward for five goals and won 5-1.
On an interesting side note – if you think the Eastern Conference standings are a mess, the Avalanche are in last place in the Western Conference and yet sit only six points out of the eight seed. After Tuesday, eight of the Hurricanes’ next nine games are against legitimate playoff contenders.