The Canes have Tampa Bay’s number, having beaten the Lightning six times last season and in the first Southeast Division meeting this year Tuesday night.
With Carolina still struggling on offense with just three regulation goals in three games, Ward pulled his club through one game after being pulled in a 7-2 loss over the weekend in Boston.
Ward made 27 saves in regulation and the five-minute overtime period before stopping Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier -- who have combined for 542 career goals -- in the shootout to give the Canes their first victory of the season.
Ward was just 4-11 in shootouts coming into the game.
“They’ve got a lot of skill and you just need to bear down,” Ward said of facing two of hockey’s most dangerous scorers. “I took a couple of deep breaths to calm the nerves and I think it helped seeing (Sergei) Samsonov score that first one. It definitely relaxed me just knowing I had to just come up with a couple of saves in order to win.”
Samsonov scored first in the shootout when he pulled back from a Mike Smith attempted poke check and slid the puck into the back of the net. Star shootout ace Jussi Jokinen was then stopped as Carolina’s second shooter before Tuomo Ruutu sealed it with a deke on Smith.
Samsonov’s tally was his fourth shootout-deciding goal in his career.
Coach Paul Maurice and assistant Ron Francis talked about which players to use prior to the shootout and decided on Samsonov instead of Matt Cullen, who is often used and had a super all-around game.
“Ron and I have a certain formula that we like to use and it was mine tonight, and if it didn’t work it was Ronnie’s,” Maurice joked. “We’ve got a lot of guys who are good on the shootout and there are a lot of different ways you can go with it, so early in the season you kind of go with what you remember from last year and who is going. Cully will get his chances.”
There was good news and bad news on the Joni Pitkanen front. The rugged defenseman saw his first action of the season after recent knee surgery and played nine shifts in the first period, but saw just two minutes of action in the second and didn’t return for the third.
“We took so many penalties in the second period and he got cold,” Maurice said. “He needs to stay warm and stay on the ice. There wasn’t an injury or a re-injury. He got stiff and didn’t feel he could go. It was unfortunate because in 4-on-4 hockey he’s pretty darn effective the way he skates and moves the puck.”
The Canes saw their first-period, one-goal margin evaporate after spending much of the second period in the penalty box. The Lightning tied it up on a 5-on-3 goal, then Carolina was forced to kill off four minutes later in the period when Pitkanen was called for interference and unsportsmanlike conduct for arguing the call.
Carolina, tops in the NHL in fewest penalty minutes last season, has had to kill off 22 minors in just three games, allowing seven goals.
“To take as many penalties as we did and be able to kill them (against Tampa Bay) was really important,” Maurice said.
The Canes caught a bad break on one of their second-period power plays when Eric Staal’s close-in opportunity was nullified when his stick was chopped in half, but no call for slashing was forthcoming, which would have given Carolina a two-man advantage.
Pitkanen made an immediate impact upon his return, sending Jokinen in alone with a perfect outlet pass on Carolina’s first power-play opportunity in the first period.
Jokinen was able to just slip the puck under the pads of Smith as he broke in alone for the Canes’ first lead of the season 13:12 into the period.
About a minute later, Ward was called upon to make a pad save against Steve Downie on a 2-on-1 after Carolina had peppered Smith with a series of good chances following Jokinen’s goal en route to 14 first-period shots.
“We just got back to our game,” Ward said. “In order to be successful in this league you’ve got to be able to put games behind you and not let them bother you moving forward. We learned from the Boston loss. It wasn’t pretty there but we left that in Boston and we were excited to come home.”
NOTES: Chad LaRose led the Canes with seven shots. … Carolina out-hit Tampa Bay 42-25 with Tim Gleason getting eight. … Samsonov moved up to the first line with Cole sidelined. … Aaron Ward was teamed with Pitkanen on defense to start the game. … Ward registered his sixth career assist on Carolina’s first goal. … Since being traded from Tampa to Carolina, Jokinen now has two goals in two games against his former team. … Staal was called for two penalties in the final seconds of each of the first two periods. … Ruutu is now 7-for-12 in shootouts for his career.