RBC CENTER, RALEIGH—Whether or not the Hurricanes make the playoffs this season, this will be known as the season Jeff Skinner came to Raleigh.
Carolina’s other talented rookie, Jamie McBain, added a pair of goals of his own, and Joni Pitkanen and Cory Stillman also tallied as All-Star Montreal starter Carey Price was chased after two periods.
Mike Cammallieri and P. K. Subban scored power play goals for the Habs, but Montreal never led in the game and often struggled to get the puck out of their zone just to change their players. Then the new players would gird themselves for the next Carolina assault.
The Atlantic Coast Conference portion of the women’s basketball season ended with a dull thud on Tuesday night with Duke’s 75-40 loss to Connecticut.
The two losses to two-time defending NCAA champion Connecticut, which is still an odds-on favorite to win the title again in Maya Moore’s senior season, were simply out of context. Maybe the “UConn” on the front of the Huskies’ jerseys was just too much.
But otherwise it was a fabulous season for Joanne P. McCallie’s No. 6 Blue Devils, who finished up 32-4 as repeat ACC champions and were never really the victims of an upset loss.
FSN SOUTH (TV)—Down a goal, and with their playoff chances hanging in the balance, the Hurricanes took the ice for the third period in Washington last night needing someone to step up and make a play.
The rookie’s seeing-eye shot through a puck-sized gap between Caps netminder Semyon Varlamov and the near post set up Carolina’s 3-2 shootout victory. Combined with Buffalo’s regulation loss to Toronto, the Canes moved to within three points of the Sabres for the final playoff spot in the east with six games remaining, including a Sunday meeting in Raleigh.
“I was just going to dump it in, and then there was sort of a little bit of space there,” Skinner said, describing his decision to extend his shift for an extra rush. “So I just sort of took it in and tried to put it on net. And luckily, it went in.”
Skinner and Tuomo Ruutu also scored in the shootout, Jussi Jokinen netted the other regulation goal, and Cam Ward made 38 saves—giving him over 2,000 saves on the season—to keep Washington from sweeping the six-game season series.
Duke put up a pretty good fight for nearly a half, but once again Maya Moore and Connecticut were just too much.
Connecticut (36-1) advanced to a Final Four game against Notre Dame on Sunday in Indianapolis, while the Blue Devils finished 32-4.
Connecticut had won the teams’ regular-season meeting 87-51 on Jan. 31 in Storrs. This time Duke trailed only 30-20 at halftime, but the Huskies turned it into a blowout in the second half.
Jasmine Thomas, the second-team All-American playing in her final game as a Blue Devil, finished with 17 points. Senior forward Karima Christmas added six points and Shay Selby six for Duke.
Five points back, seven games remaining. This is what the Carolina Hurricanes' season has come to.
But if Carolina can win two sets of back-to-back games, which would match its longest winning streak of this up-and-down season, then the team has a chance to displace the Buffalo Sabres from the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Hurricanes visit the streaking Washington Capitals tonight and host the slumping Montreal Canadiens Wednesday. Then they visit Long Island for a Saturday night matchup with the eliminated Islanders before hosting the Sabres on Sunday evening in a 5:00pm game.
Buffalo, meanwhile, needs to help out the Canes by losing some games, and they might be vulnerable. They visit the hungry Maple Leafs tonight before hosting the New York Rangers Wednesday. Then they skate with the Capitals Saturday night before scooting down to Raleigh on Sunday. Three of those four games are on the road.
Duke gets a second chance tonight, and it’s coming in a very important situation.
Connecticut, which demolished the then-unbeaten Blue Devils 87-51 on Jan. 31 in Storrs, is on a 23-game winning streak. The Huskies — led by Maya Moore who is considered one of the best female basketball players ever — lead the series 6-3.
“They (the Huskies) control the ball well, they find each other well, they don’t dribble, they pass well,” Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “It’s all the same for us. There was no game there (in January) and we moved on from that point.
“But at this point, isn’t really about any opponent. Isn’t it about getting to (the Final Four in) Indy? At some point, I’m sure you have to be excited about the opportunity at the end—I’m sure Connecticut is. It’s a great opportunity for any team in this situation, and as you can imagine, I’m thrilled my freshmen are trucking along here. This is the kind of experience I can’t tell them about, I can’t draw this one on the board, but still we never beat them, so we’ll see.”
Carolina fell behind early and appeared to be on the verge of getting blown out, but the Tar Heels clawed back from an eight-point halftime deficit and had the ball down only one point with just over one minute remaining. Kendall Marshall’s drive attempt was blocked, however, and the Wildcats put the game on ice from the free throw line.
For a season-ending defeat, few fans griped with the team. The Tar Heels demonstrated their characteristic resilience, but Kentucky simply out-shot them by too great a margin on the perimeter. The ‘Cats hit 12-for-22 on threes while UNC made only 3-for-16, and that disparity proved decisive.
Not all was lost. Carolina certainly eradicated any lingering dark clouds from last season, and the Tar Heels did advance farthest of any ACC team. Sunday’s game also drew an estimated 17 million viewers — the highest-rated game of the tournament — and television exposure is the lifeblood of recruiting.
As was the case throughout the tournament, Tyler Zeller led the way for the Heels. He scored 21 points on 9-for-12 shooting and added nine rebounds. Harrison Barnes struggled with his jump shot but did finish with 18 points and six boards, and during one stretch in the second half he simply was amazing.
Duke will get another shot at defending NCAA Women’s Basketball Champion Connecticut.
Duke and UConn will play for the regional championship on Tuesday night. Connecticut, which beat the visiting Blue Devils 87-51 on Jan. 31, advanced in the earlier game with a 68-63 comeback win over No. 4 seed Georgetown.
Karima Christmas led the Blue Devils (32-3) with a season-high 23 points, followed by Jasmine Thomas with 19 and Chelsea Gray with 16.
Deirdre Naughton led DePaul (29-7) with 17 points, while Felicia Chester, Sam Quigley and Keisha Hampton chipped in 11 points apiece.
Duke will try to earn a spot in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Elite Eight today at 2:30, when the No. 6 Blue Devils take on No. 10 DePaul in the semifinals of the Philadelphia Regional.
Duke (31-3) is the No. 2 seed in the region while DePaul (29-6) is No. 3.
“Our keys are playing how we’ve been playing,” Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “Our offense has been flowing beautifully if you look at what we’ve been doing the last six games. Hopefully we can keep attacking the hoop. Defending DePaul is very tricky because of their ability to go inside-outside with three-point shooting in the transition. We need to be on that big-time. We are going to have to limit them in transition, keep them out of the paint, no layups, no threes, and do an inside-out defense. …
“Offensively, our numbers are sky high right now. Our shooting percentage is the highest it’s ever been. Our scoring is the highest it’s ever been. Our assists are the highest they’ve ever been and our turnovers are as small they’ve ever been. So we need that trend to continue in order to advance.”
UNC saw its women’s basketball season come to an end Saturday night in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, dropping a 72-65 decision to favored Stanford in the semifinals of the Spokane Regional.
Nnemkadi Ogwumike led Stanford, which scored the final seven points of the game, with 19 points, while her sister Chiney added 16 and Kayla Pedersen 15.
Italee Lucas scored 22 in her final game for the No. 14 Tar Heels (28-9), who were the No. 5 seed in the region. Tierra Ruffin-Pratt chipped in 14 points and Chay Shegog 13 for UNC. Jessica Breland had a rough night in her finale as a Tar Heel, scoring two points.