Coach Paul Maurice’s subtle move to shift Ray Whitney to the top line to start the final period paid huge dividends as the Wizard scored twice – including his 100th as a Carolina Hurricane -- in a six-minute span to send the game into overtime, and then a shootout.
It wouldn’t have gotten that far had it not been for the spectacular glove of goalie Cam Ward, whose leather stab of a point blank shot from Bill Guerin shortly after Whitney scored his first, and another in the OT period against Canes killer Evgeni Malkin, kept the Pens at bay and gave his team a chance at two points.
“It seemed to be working quite well,” Maurice said tongue-in-cheek when asked about his goalie’s spectacular glove on a night in which Ward stopped 36 of 38 shots.
Ward was sharp in the early stages of the shootout, stoning Guerin and Malkin, among others, before Pittsburgh’s sixth shooter – Chris Kunitz -- iced Pittsburgh's team-record fifth straight road win to start the season when he slid the puck between Ward’s pads.
“It went right down to the end and I needed to come up with some of those saves,” said Ward. “Our team was playing well and I wasn’t happy with the second goal they scored, it shouldn’t have gone in, so when we had a chance I needed to come up big. It’s a big point. It’s a good comeback for us.”
“It’s a game to build on,” added Whitney. “Having to come from behind like we did against the defending Stanley Cup champions is a tribute to our hockey club. We didn’t change the way we played and it finally paid off in the third period. Again, I have to tip my hat to Cam Ward. His efforts are the real reason we got a point tonight.”
Jussi Jokinen, now 23-for-43 for his career in shootouts, scored the only shootout goal for Carolina as the second shooter. Maurice went with the same order – Sergei Samsonov, Jokinen and Ruutu – that produced a shootout victory last week against Tampa Bay. He also used Matt Cullen (who hit the post), Whitney and Eric Staal.
Carolina had few scoring chances in the second as the Pens took control for large portions of the period, which got off to a bad start for the home team as Malkin scored from a sharp angle just 4:27 in to put the Canes in a two-goal hole.
However, Whitney wasted little time getting comfortable with Staal and Ruutu to start the third in place of Samsonov, getting his second of the season 4:25 in and then tipping one high past Marc-Andre Fleury midway through the period to get the RBC Center rocking.
“I’ve been here five years now and played with just about everybody on our team and I think it’s a luxury our coaching staff has that they can mix players in and out and try to get a spark,” Whitney said. “I don’t think it had anything to do negatively toward anybody else, sometimes you just need a change of pace or something to give the guys a little kick and that was what worked for us.”
Whitney was his old witty self when asked about his 100 goals with the Canes – the most he’s scored with any one franchise.
“One hundred good ones, too,” he shot back. “It has just been a good fit from day one. With the attitude this team had coming out of the lockout and playing an offensive game it certainly fit my style. It’s also a tribute to guys I’ve played with like Staal, Rod Brind’Amour and Cullen.”
It appeared Carolina could get back into the game midway through the second period when Crosby went off for roughing against Brind’Amour, but Ruutu took a hooking penalty just 12 seconds later to nullify the Canes’ power play – one of just three man-advantage opportunities.
The Canes had to deal with plenty of Pittsburgh’s offensive power in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, but it was light-scoring Michael Rupp who was able to strike first in this one, breaking down the right wing all alone and backhanding one up over Ward’s shoulder with 5:36 left in the first. It was just Rupp’s 28th goal in 342 career games.
“Mike doesn’t get a lot of airtime for his offense but they don’t need a whole lot to get a chance,” Maurice said.
The first goal of the game came just 46 seconds after Ruutu sent Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang flying in his own end with a crunching check.
NOTES: The top two penalized teams in the league went the first period without a penalty being called and just nine face-offs. … Joni Pitkanen has now missed five of the team’s first six games as he recovers from pre-camp knee surgery. … Ray Whitney is two games shy of 1,000 for his career. … It was the sixth straight game Joe Corvo has logged at least 22 minutes, playing 29:01 against the Pens. … The Canes had a season-high 48 hits, including a team-high seven by Tim Gleason. … Brind’Amour won nine of 11 draws. … Six Canes logged more than 20 minutes each. … The Canes don’t return home until Oct. 28 against St. Louis.