Carolina arrived back in Raleigh at 2 a.m. after a tough road loss against Nashville while Colorado was resting in the Triangle for a day waiting for a team that resides dead last in the NHL standings.
And defying the odds even more Friday night was a player who is getting long in the tooth, providing the offensive spark a tired Carolina squad was looking for in a 2-1 victory over the Avalanche.
Ray Whitney scored twice in a game for the third time this season, Cam Ward stopped 29 shots in his 11th straight start, and the Canes were 6-for-6 on the penalty kill to avoid dropping a season-worst 14 games under .500.
“We played hard, they came out banging us and our penalty killing did a great job,” said Whitney, who scored his team-leading 12th and 13th goals. “Again, Cam played great in the first period and from there we got our legs going a little bit better. Under the circumstances we played good.”
Instead of giving in to fatigue and yet another key injury, Carolina won on its first attempt on home ice in 2010 against one of the better teams in the Western Conference with Whitney and a bunch of young minor-league call-ups.
“They’re sitting here waiting for us and we’re beat up and there were not a lot of good, positive feelings to drive us, so it was a good character win,” coach Paul Maurice said.
After not beating the Avs since February 1996, the Canes have now won two of the last three meetings against Colorado, including 5-2 at the RBC Center last season.
The Wizard made it 2-0 just 37 seconds into the second period when he broke down the right wing, faked a shot from the top of the circle and then fooled Colorado back-up goalie Peter Budaj when he finally pulled the trigger.
“He changed the angle on the guy and then he got it off his stick quicker than you think, and his first goal was very, very exciting,” Maurice said of Whitney’s scores.
“On that second one it was a better goal than people would think because they think maybe the goalie should have it, but Ray has such quick hands that he makes that goaltender move and he freezes him a little bit and he gets it off his plate real fast.”
It was the second time in less than a month that Whitney has scored twice and now has a team-best 29 points as he approaches age 38.
Carolina killed off five Colorado power plays in the opening 20 minutes, getting 14 saves from Ward and a nifty man-advantage goal from Whitney for a 1-0 lead after a fist-filled period that saw a combined 42 penalty minutes.
The Canes, already playing without Eric Staal, Sergei Samsonov, Scott Walker, Chad LaRose, Erik Cole and Joe Corvo, lost Tuomo Ruutu four minutes in when he tangled with Darcy Tucker. Ruutu won the fight with the player he checked into the boards from behind Oct. 23 and received a three-game suspension, but didn’t return to the ice for Carolina after landing several blows to Tucker.
“He knew the fight was coming and it kind of got our bench going,” Maurice said. “It was a real chippy period and I think that was good for us, that it wasn’t played quietly and softly and that everybody got in the fight. I was real happy with the game and we had some really big performances from guys like Matt Cullen and Cam Ward, who did what he needed to do with the lineup that we had in there.”
“You want to go out there and try to give your team a chance to win each and every night, and I’m starting to feel a lot more comfortable in the net,” Ward said. “I’ve got more of a smile on my face and I’m having some fun out there and just playing my own game like I have in the past. Anytime you get caught with an injury you’re going to try to be at the top of your game right away and you over-think it too much. Right now I’m going out there with a clear mind and reading and reacting and it’s paying off.”
Maurice said he would know more on Ruutu’s injury Saturday, but that it was likely more significant than day-to-day.
“I’ll be honest with you, we’re almost at the point when somebody leaves the bench you just don’t expect them to come back,” Maurice said. “We can’t afford too many more.”NOTES: Whitney has a team-leading 12 power-play points … Rod Brind’Amour’s assist on the first Carolina goal gave the captain points in back-to-back games for the first time since Oct. 21-23. … Cullen has points in three straight games and nine points in his last nine. … Carolina came into the game 1-5-1 on tail end of back-to-back games. … Cullen, 49 percent on draws this season, won 19 of 24 faceoffs. Ward lost his shutout bid and Carolina’s first of the season with 15.5 seconds left. …. Four of Carolina’s six defensemen played 20 or more minutes.