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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Canes keep pace in East with comeback win over Sens

Posted by on Wed, Mar 23, 2011 at 4:00 AM

RBC CENTER, RALEIGH—How many times do you hit the snooze button before you get up in the morning?

Cam Wards 36 saves allowed Carolina to overcome another slow start and beat the Ottawa Senators 4-3 on Tuesday night.
  • File photo by Rob Rowe
  • Cam Ward's 36 saves allowed Carolina to overcome another slow start and beat the Ottawa Senators 4-3 on Tuesday night.
The Hurricanes hit the button twice, falling behind the Ottawa Senators 2-0 and continuing their season-long trend of slow starts, before roaring back for a 4-3 win thanks to a pair of goals from Chad LaRose and an impressive 36-save performance from Cam Ward.

Tuomo Ruutu and LaRose provided the wake-up call, scoring to tie the game within a minute of Marek Svatos' goal late in the first period that had given the Senators their two-goal lead. Ward did the rest, stopping 18 shots in the second period before LaRose's second goal of the game gave the Canes the lead for good. Cory Stillman's first goal in eight games iced it for the home team in the third.

The playoff race remains virtually unchanged, however. Both the New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres won, so the Canes remained three points out of the eighth and final playoff slot in the Eastern Conference. Carolina and Buffalo have nine more games, and the Rangers one fewer than that.

Early on, the Senators looked like the team fighting for their playoff lives, piling up a wide advantage in faceoff wins and shots, and cycling the puck in the Carolina zone. Colin Greening broke through about eight minutes in, banging home a rebound of a Jason Spezza shot as he crashed the net. Bobby Butler sprung Spezza for a clean breakaway from center ice, but Cam Ward's save took him to the side of the goalmouth and the Canes were soft on their backcheck. Spezza sparkled much of the night, notching two assists and five shots.

Then Svatos cleaned up the rebound of an Erik Condra shot that Ward had to come to the top of the crease to stop. When Svatos flicked the puck behind the goalie, the Canes finally decided to get out of bed.

Jussi Jokinen's line provided the push. Jeff Skinner navigated through traffic at the blueline and moved the puck of the boards to an angling Jokinen. Senators goaltender Curtis McElhinney was well set up to stop the shot but Ruutu deflected it under his arm with his stick blade.

The Canes tied it before fans had finished cheering the Ruutu goal. Joni Pitkanen continued his smart play, pinching deep down the boards to chip a soft clear attempt into the circle for a curling LaRose. He fired the puck over McElhinney's blocker-side shoulder.

LaRose gave the boisterous crowd an assist. "Big home advantage here for us. We came out slow, but you can hear the push."

Ottawa crafted a push of their own to open the second period, firing the first seven shots of the frame at Ward. The netminder was typically calm, however, deflecting a terrific Spezza shot to the corner with his glove despite a Nick Foligno screen on a power play.

The Canes finally took the lead in the final two minutes of the second. Brandon Sutter sprung LaRose with a nice pass off the boards to catch the winger in stride. He rambled into the zone, danced laterally above the circles, and beat McElhinney high on the blocker side again.

The Canes left little to chance in the third, putting a fourth goal on the board for the first time in almost a month. Erik Cole darted over the blueline to steal the puck before Ottawa could clear it. He glided across the dot and threw the puck across the slot to Stillman, who worked a give and go play in tight with Eric Staal to freeze the hapless McElhinney.

Staal, who has been stuck on 29 goals since he last tallied against the Blackhawks on Mar. 4, had a clear breakaway after blocking a Spezza point shot with his shins, but McElhinney got his pads down to keep his team in the game. Staal would leave the game later in the third with an unreported injury. Coach Paul Maurice later dismissed concerns, calling his departure "precautionary."

Ward held his team in, foiling Foligno twice with his shoulder and blocker midway through the third. But Erik Karlsson got the Sens within a goal with under six minutes left, chopping in a smart slap-pass from Spezza.

Carolina ably ran out the clock, however. Cole defused Ottawa's best chance, lifting Chris Neil's stick in the crease on what would have been a great scoring chance.

The Canes have a couple of days to stay awake, beginning a home-at-home series with the Lightning in Tampa on Friday night.

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