For the second time in the last eight days the Canes took a 4-1 lead into the third period at the RBC Center. And once again, would make the final 20 minutes much more interesting than expected.
But in the end, the club was able to erase the disappointment of blowing a 6-4 loss to Atlanta on Nov. 27 with a 5-3 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday afternoon.
After being denied a hat trick when he hit the post with 8:07 left, Erik Cole was able to register his sixth career three-goal game with en empty-netter with 13.8 seconds remaining to snap Carolina’s five-game losing streak.
Cole’s hat trick may be as unusual as the first 28 games for the Canes since it’s unclear just how his second goal got into the net after being poked and prodded at by several Vancouver players, including his daughter’s godfather Willie Mitchell, who Cole played college hockey with at Clarkson.
“I might have to try to get a hold of that puck and try to give it to my buddy Mitchell. Dinner wasn’t that expensive last night,” Cole joked. “It doesn’t really matter who is scoring goals, we just need wins. I’m just glad we got a win here at home before we go on this road trip. It’s going to be a tough week for us.”
With a mystifying start for this veteran bunch, and now sitting at 0-10-3 in the road, the Canes have a four-game, six-day trip against Pittsburgh, New Jersey, Washington and Ottawa before returning to the RBC Center Dec. 16 against Dallas.
Wow, that would be difficult if you’re playing well, but Carolina needs to break through on the road sooner or later if it expects to get back into any sort of playoff chase.
“We’ve got to have some success on the road and have some fun, that’s how we’re going to start moving forward,” Cole said.
Carolina was able to hold on to its three-goal lead for the first 10 minutes of the third before the momentum began to shift when Aaron Ward lost coverage on Steve Bernier, who was able to jam it home with 9:53 left, and Alexandre Burrows was able to bat a puck out of mid-air past Manny Legace less than five minutes later as the crowd grew restless.
“Atlanta, Buffalo,” Legace said as he began to rattle off names of teams when asked if other poor third periods crept into the minds of players. “Yeah, but you’ve got to block it out and just battle. Especially when the third goal is batted out of the air and hits the bar and goes in, it’s like ‘Here we go again.’ It was time to buckle down and keep things simple.”
Which is what Legace did in recording the 180th career victory, facing 16 third-period shots while stopping 33 of 36 for the game. In addition to seeing the score go to 4-3 late, Sergei Samsonov was called for a high-sticking penalty with 2:57 left, even though replays clearly show the puck hitting Burrows in the face and not Samsonov’s stick. But the Canes had an excellent kill, setting up Cole’s empty-netter.
“It’s a good thing we killed the thing off because that would have been tough to take,” coach Paul Maurice said.
“A team that gets down three or four goals sends guys up the ice and tries to blow the doors off you, and your goaltender has to be the difference and Manny was,” added Maurice. “We’re not handling the puck overly easy. We’re beating the thing up and it’s a bit of a confidence thing, without question.”
A 1-1 tie quickly turned into a three-goal cushion in the second period as Cole opened the scoring and closed it when he was credited with a power-play goal with 1:01 left in the period as the puck somehow found its way over the goal line after a wild scramble in front of Andrew Raycroft.
Samsonov also scored 2:11 after Cole’s first tally early in the period as the Canucks coughed up the puck once again in what amounted to one of their sloppier games recently as Vancouver had won six of eight.
Legace faced 14 first-period shots, many of the difficult variety, but the one that got by him with 7:58 left was a deflected shot off Joni Pitkanen’s stick that slipped between his glove and mid-section.
But the Canes fought back in short order, capitalizing on a neutral-zone turnover by Vancouver, which was finished off by a Ray Whitney backhander that came just 20 seconds after the Canucks broke on top.
“I had no idea how much net I had. I just swung at it real hard,” said Whitney, whose three-point night broke his five-game pointless steak.
Eric Staal had an opportunity to give the Canes the lead less than three minutes after Whitney’s goal when he found himself all alone in the Vancouver zone after another sloppy miscue, but was unable to beat Raycroft after making several moves and then losing the puck off his stick on the goalie’s poke-check. However, Staal kept up his good play since returning from a mid-section injury with two assists and four shots.
“For 40 minutes a lot of the last 10 games have been the team we had envisioned, and for some reason 20 minutes have been a problem for us – not even a full 20 minutes, sometimes 10 minutes in a period,” Whitney said. “Confidence-wise we’ve got to be a lot better in that aspect.”
NOTES: With Joe Corvo out, Maurice paired Pitkanen with Tim Gleason. … Ward recorded his 100th career assist on Carolina’s first goal. … Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman was on hand scouting … Scott Walker returned to the lineup after missing eight games with an upper-body injury. … Jussi Jokinen missed his first game of the season with a lower-body injury. … Tom Kostopoulos played a season-high 15:27 and had a team-best seven hits. … Gleason had four of Carolina’s 20 blocks. …Cole now has six career goals in 11 games against Vancouver.