Skinner triggers another comeback over Panthers, 5-3 | Sports
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Saturday, January 8, 2011

Skinner triggers another comeback over Panthers, 5-3

Posted by on Sat, Jan 8, 2011 at 12:23 AM

FSN South (TV)—After a period, the Carolina Hurricanes were down two goals to the Florida Panthers. Right where they wanted to be.

Jeff Skinner, seen here at an early-season practice, scored two poetic goals to spark a 5-3 comback win in the Florida Panthers barn Friday night.
  • Jeremy M. Lange
  • Jeff Skinner, seen here at an early-season practice, scored two poetic goals to spark a 5-3 comback win in the Florida Panthers' barn Friday night.
For the third time in three weeks, the Canes erased a multi-goal deficit against the Panthers as Jeff Skinner and Erik Cole scored twice each in a 5-3 win in Florida on Friday night. Justin Peters saved 32 shots in just his second win of the season—both against the Panthers—as Cam Ward took the night off.

With Skinner's three-point night, he has matched Eric Staal's rookie output of 31 points—in less than half the number of games it took the Carolina captain in the 2003-2004 campaign. Staal also notched a milestone, potting his 20th to put the Canes ahead for good in the third period. That's six years and counting that Staal's hit that number.

Peters looked shaky early, as he was late to the post on a David Booth wraparound just 96 seconds into the game. Battling the puck throughout the opening frame, he allowed Marty Reasoner to tip a Dennis Wideman point shot under his glove at the 12:30 mark. But after the first intermission, Peters and his teammates brought a very different game.

Not two minutes into the second, off a gutsy pass from Tuomo Ruutu, Skinner walked across the slot and lured Tomas Vokoun out of his net, launching a shot that caught the netminder off balance. To create space for Skinner, Ruutu held the puck until the last possible second and paid a price, though, crushed into the boards as Skinner received the pass. Then, just after the midpoint of the period, Skinner tallied again, chipping a Patrick Dwyer centering pass up and over Vokoun in a rainbow arc. The goaltender lost the puck in the air, as it bounced off his back into the goal to tie the game.

These are the kinds of goals that require subtlety and execution that no Hurricane other than Staal possesses. That Skinner is only 18—the youngest player in the entire league—begs the question as to how so many skills are so smoothly coordinated in his game.

On the first goal, Skinner glided almost parallel to the goalmouth instead of charging at it, waiting for Vokoun to come out to cut down the angle of the shot, and then timing the shot to arrive just as Vokoun leaned to transfer his weight from one leg to the other. In other words, Skinner targeted a hole that wasn't yet there as he released the puck.

His second goal showed a different kind of restraint. Darting into the crease from the back side of the play, Skinner jabbed at the puck before two defenders could. As he tracked its filip over Vokoun's oblivious head, Skinner's shoulders twitched, suppressing the instinct to take a second swipe at the puck. Rather than risk hitting the puck with his stick above the goal's crossbar—which would have disallowed the goal—Skinner let gravity play its hand.

Florida steadied to open the third, holding the puck in the Carolina zone for several extended but fruitless sessions. And then Staal, who skated a game-high 24-plus minutes and seemed depleted after putting the team on his back Wednesday night in a hectic 2-1 overtime loss to the New York Rangers on Broadway, delivered a scoring moment of his own halfway through the frame.

Off a soft feed from Zach Boychuk at the Panthers' blue line, Staal leaned into a wrist shot that simply beat Vokoun's glove. There's no reason to wax poetic about the goal. Vokoun wasn't screened; there was no deke or move. Staal just fired it in. The gut punch staggered Florida.

Staal wears the captain's "C" because he can summon plays like this. In the midst of a stretch in which the team plays every other day for a solid month up to the All-Star break, after double-shifting throughout the game to try to erase an early deficit, in the third period of a tied road game, Staal can cash in the opportunity of an open shot.

To end any doubt about the outcome, Skinner shrugged a backhand pass to Cole between the circles as Ruutu cruised the crease with three minutes left. The assist left Skinner four points ahead of the other Calder Trophy frontrunner for league's best rookie, San Jose's Logan Couture.

After Cole tossed a shorthanded goal—his tenth of the year—into an empty net, Reasoner flung a bouncer under Peters with less than a minute left to cap the scoring. Carolina now returns home for a Sunday matinee with the Atlanta Thrashers who fell 9-3 to Toronto on Friday night. Six points back of the Thrashers with four games in hand, it's an opportunity to reach for the next rung in the conference standings.

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