The Carolina Hurricanes, putting things together at the most opportune time, reeled off their 10th straight home victory, getting goals by Chad LaRose and Rod Brind’Amour 28 seconds apart in the latter stages of the third period to break open a close game en route to a 4-2 victory over the New York Rangers.
The victory was key on several fronts. Most importantly it bolted the Canes into fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings with 93 points – one point better than Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with four regular-season games left – three of which will be played at the raucous RBC Center, where Carolina can’t seem to lose these days.
Pittsburgh comes to town Saturday night in what will be another high energy contest as the daily jockeying for playoff position comes down to the final nine days of the season.
Cam Ward, starting his 25th straight game, stopped 36 shots for his 37th victory of the season, which matches his career high win total of last year.
The Canes were anxious, over-aggressive and full of defensive turnovers for the first 40 minutes of a 2-2 tie, then found their legs and winning ways yet again, capturing the club’s seventh in a row overall and setting a franchise record with their 10th straight win at home Thursday night. The Canes won nine straight at the RBC Center during the 2006 Stanley Cup-winning season.
“When we went up 4-2 that building was as loud as it’s been all year,” said Ray Whitney, who had two assists, including a spectacular pass to help start LaRose’s game-winner with 7:35 left.
“It was pretty loud out there, it got the legs going pretty good,” added Eric Staal, who had a goal and an assist. “It was a lot of fun. We’ve got to keep this train rolling.”
LaRose had two goals to give him 18 on the season – the same total he produced in his first 187 NHL games before his promotion to the team’s second line the last two months.
“In my first 150 games in the league I wasn’t supposed to be a scorer and I never planned on it,” said LaRose, mostly a penalty killer and fourth line player for the early portion of his Carolina career. “Scoring just wasn’t my role. If it came to me and I got a bounce and got one in it was good, but that wasn’t my first priority. I never had any doubt it would be there and that I could get it done.”
LaRose’s go-ahead goal sent the RBC Center crowd into a wild celebration, but Brind’Amour’s screen shot less than 30 seconds later that eluded Henrik Lundqvist put them over the edge against a New York team that came in just two points behind the Canes.
“In the playoffs you need depth and you need some production from a lot of people,” Whitney said. “Once you get to the playoffs teams are going to key on Staal’s line and you need production elsewhere. To have Chad scoring close to 20 goals this season and having Rod and Sergei Samsonov on the third line we feel like we’ve got pretty good depth now.”
Despite being outshot 31-14 through two periods, Carolina managed a 2-2 tie heading into the final 20 minutes of regulation. Then the RBC Center crowd took over, almost willing the Canes to their record-setting victory.
“That was something else,” coach Paul Maurice said of the crowd. “In the third period they got it going and we were much better. I thought the fans picked us up.”
LaRose hit the post with 13:50 left in the second, then scored his 17th 22 seconds later as Staal made a nice play to glove down a high puck as he entered the offensive zone and then dug the puck out of the corner for a centering pass.
Ward had already made 23 saves halfway through the game and it looked as if the hot goalie would keep the Rangers in check, but couldn’t stop a screen shot off the stick of Dan Girardi at the tail end of a New York power play late in the period to knot the score for the second time.
The Canes, the least penalized team in the NHL, survived a first period in which they were outshot 13-3 and called for four successive minors over a span of 7:13, killing off each one in fine fashion.
“There was a lot of enthusiasm in the room and we came out wired,” Maurice said of the team’s energy after four days between games. “We were a little over-physical, maybe a little over-aggressive, and it was a very tightly called game, but we talked about containing that emotion a little bit. But you would rather have that problem, have to go in the calm your room down instead of having to wire them up.”
“You could tell we were well rested, maybe too much,” added Whitney. “We definitely had to sit Ruutu down and say, ‘Hey, take a deep breath big boy.’ When he gets his wires crossed he can really take some people down. But it’s easier to tone it down than find the energy. We were a bit too anxious, but again our goaltender bailed us out again when we weren’t at our best.”
Carolina’s 1-0 lead on an early power play goal by Staal, his 35th, was negated late in the period when rookie defenseman Corey Potter scored his first career goal from the right point through a maze of players.
NOTES: Ward is 17-6-2 over his last 25 starts. … Brind’Amour played in his 1,400th game. … Matt Cullen missed his fourth straight game with a lower body injury while Scott Walker returned after being sidelined for 11. … Tim Conboy was a healthy scratch with the return of Walker. … Patrick Eaves left in the second period with an upper body injury and did not return. … The Canes saw their streak of 21 straight games with at least 30 shots snapped with just 23 on the Rangers. … Carolina is 20-2-2 in games in which Staal scores a goal. … Brind’Amour extended his point streak to a season-best seven straight.