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Sunday, November 30, 2008

'Canes implode in third, lose 4-1 to Ducks

Posted by on Sun, Nov 30, 2008 at 10:14 PM

Believe it or not, this was a very close game. The Hurricanes had another brilliant second period and managed almost 40 shots on goal, but collapsed in the third period, allowing two quick goals and another one late. Once again the team relied on its third line for all the scoring and only produced one goal. There were no last-minute heroics to be found and Anaheim sent Carolina to its fourth loss in five games.

“Tonight the effort was there,” Eric Staal said. “I thought we were there, I thought we were good on the puck, and we had a lot of chances, but we couldn’t capitalize.”

The Hurricanes were getting consistent goaltending for the first time this season, but the Hockey Gods were not about to let that fly. Cam Ward started in net, but sustained a lower body injury in the first period and did not return to the ice.

Ryan Getzlaf’s shot went in off the goalpost 1:44 in, marking the tenth consecutive time that the Hurricanes have given up the first goal in a game.

Furthering the proof that the Hurricanes’ third line is, statistically and energy-wise, essentially their first line, Matt Cullen retaliated five minutes later. Cullen followed his shot in front of the goal and eventually collected his third or fourth rebound and punched it past Jonas Hiller. After going without points in seven games, Cullen has five in his last five contests.

Laviolette has said that he is pleased with Ward’s performance through the last week and a half, and his ice time reflects it; after playing musical goalies for the first part of the season, rotating his netminders every other game, Laviolette seemed to find his groove, starting Ward in net almost every night. Ward stood on his head midway through the first, when the ‘Canes failed to clear the puck on the penalty kill and left a Duck standing in the middle of Ward’s crease. Ward stacked his pads and turned away three golden opportunities, and the Anaheim player couldn’t get it up and over.

However, that trend took a turn when Ward sustained an apparent lower body injury and didn’t return for the second period. Michael Leighton took over for Ward and stopped 23 shots in relief. The seemingly-okay Ward might not join childhood idol Martin Brodeur on the lengthy list of NHL injured starters, according to Laviolette.

“We’re going to assess,” Laviolette said. “We didn’t want to risk any further injury. Hopefully it isn’t anything long-term.”

This led yours truly to wonder…with the backup in net, who would have gone in had something happened to Leighton? Dennis Seidenberg, who leads the team in blocked shots and therefore has a tactical advantage, was injured in the Philadelphia game. Eric Staal is having trouble scoring, so perhaps he could strap on the pads and give goaltending a try? Nic Wallin has expressed his desire to smother the puck in the crease before, so perhaps he could do it without incurring a penalty shot? Thankfully, we didn’t have to find out.

Longtime ‘Cane Bret Hedican was recognized for both his 1000th NHL game, which took place last week, and for his contributions to the Hurricanes organization during the game. Hedican, who was on the Ducks’ bench, pretended not to notice but received a congratulatory helmet nuggie from Ducks captain Scott Niedermayer. Hedican, who was with the Hurricanes for six seasons, followed his wife, Dancing with the Stars champ Kristi Yamaguchi, to California when her career took off and signed with the Ducks nine games into the season.

The Ducks received a lucky break when Frank Kaberle, who just returned from injury, banged his stick frantically on the ice and received the pass, then rocketed one off the goalpost. Dwight Helminen just missed the net on the rebound. Although the Hurricanes outshot the Ducks 17-3, the score remained tied heading into the third.

That’s when, according to Tuomo Ruutu, it all “fell apart.” A team that has Eric Staal and Rod Brind’Amour centering its two top lines should not be managing only one goal in a game, as the ‘Canes have done seven times this season, and should certainly not expect to win. The missed opportunities came back to bite the ‘Canes when they took several ill-times penalties, and had trouble producing a sustained forecheck 5-on-5.

“When you start struggling, you have a tendency not to make plays…we didn’t do a very good job of hunting the puck down,” Rod Brind’Amour said.

The Ducks converted on the power play 12:44 into the third to take the lead. After a 5-on-3 resulting from a completely undeserved Patrick Eaves penalty (A Duck ran into Eaves along the boards, hammed it up, and somehow the refs came up with “elbowing” to describe what had happened) and a Frank Kaberle infraction, the Hurricanes let up and Teemu Selanne tipped one past Leighton.

There was, however, no excuse for the next goal. A little over a minute after the Selanne goal, Rob Niedermayer snuck in and scored. Neidermayer struck again to close the scoring.

The Hurricanes have a good stretch of time to work on their problems, as they don’t play again until Thursday. The team will almost certainly lose the eighth-seed spot that it is currently clinging to in the standings while others play on, but the season is still young. There is time to reverse the damage and hopefully re-learn how to win at home.

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