Rosie earned himself a hefty raise after scoring a career-best 19 goals last season, but with contract in hand and security under his belt he hadn’t been able to find the back of the net after 21 games as the Canes fell into an early hole in the Eastern Conference standings.
But for those of us who know and watch LaRose on a regular basis it hasn’t been from a lack of trying. I haven’t been tracking hit posts and crossbars and fantastic saves this season, but LaRose has been victim to them all – and numerous times.
That was until Saturday night. With the game hanging in the balance, LaRose finally buried one as Carolina beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-1 to secure the team’s first win in regulation since beating Florida on Oct. 9.
It was also the fifth straight game in which the Canes have gotten at least a point as they begin a slow, methodical attempt to get back into the playoff chase before Christmas, beating the Lightning for the eighth straight time in Raleigh.
“I’ve been getting chances and just trying to put my foot on the gas pedal and work hard,” LaRose said. “I was hoping one was going to bang in off me. It is frustrating when you’re losing and you feel it’s kind of a burden on your chest.”
This was no fluky goal for LaRose as he broke down the right wing with less than five minutes remaining and the Canes clinging to a 2-1 lead. With a step on the Tampa Bay defense after a perfect pass from Sergei Samsonov, LaRose held the puck a little longer than usual, then let loose a shot that beat Mike Smith up high for his first goal of the season.
“A few weeks ago Chad may have tried to blow it through the goalie instead of just getting it on the net,” coach Paul Maurice said. “He’s tried to kill the goaltender for the first month of the season, and he has hit posts and pounded it and driven it. It was a good little change-up for him.
“I’m happy for him because this guy is playing hard and they’re not easy minutes and he’s first in the fight all the time,” Maurice added. “It’s tough to watch him go through (this slump) because he’s honest. There’s not really much you can say to him. You can’t say ‘practice harder or play harder’ because he plays as hard as he can every time he gets on the ice.”
Manny Legace didn’t get much work in net, but made several key saves and didn’t allow many rebounds for this second straight win, while the Carolina defense was on the puck all night in its own zone for what has to be considered its best game in more than a month.
“The mood in the room the last week has been better and we’ve been moving toward something much better,” defenseman Joe Corvo said. “Everybody is just a little bit more confident and feels better. And those little bounces, those little plays, we’re winning those little battles now.”
Ruutu’s goal gave him nine points in the last six games, and the Finn also scored the deciding shootout goal Thursday night against Toronto.
In addition, it was the second straight game Carolina scored two goals in the second – a period which up until the other night had been the team’s nemesis.
But Carolina was more proud of its first period, where the team has struggled at home recently.
The Canes peppered Smith out of the gate and carried the play for much of the first period but still trailed 1-0 after 20 minutes when Martin St. Louis scored from a sharp angle on the power play late in the period. St. Louis is a Carolina killer with 54 points now in 54 career games.
“He hit it off my butt and it went into the net,” Legace said of the St. Louis goal. “My butt is so big. I guess I’ve got to lose some pounds. But we played 60 minutes tonight – right from the start, right from the drop of the puck. There was dedication for 60 minutes and that’s what it’s going to take. We’re not a team that has superstars that are going to bury five goals a night. We’ve got to grind them out. We’ve dug ourselves a little hole here so there is no other choice.”
NOTES: After scoring his first goal of the season Thursday night, Stephane Yelle moved to the third line, while Rod Brind’Amour, who entered the game a minus-18, centered the fourth line. … Joni Pitkanen returned to the lineup and logged 23:24 of ice time with a team-high six shots. … Brandon Sutter’s four-game point streak was snapped. … Carolina is a combined 26-6-1 against Tampa Bay and Florida in its last 33 games at the RBC Center. … Since going 0-for-26 on the power play the Canes are 6-for-26. … The Canes evened their home record at 5-5-2. … Carolina improved to 27-8-8-1 all-time at home against the Lightning.