Brett Carson scored his first NHL goal, Cam Ward played his best game since returning from injury, Rod Brind’Amour logged his first game-winner in 121 games and Eric Staal returned to his comfort zone of hockey after spending a difficult week grieving over the loss of his 26-year-old sister-in-law.
It all added up to a 4-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators, the only team in the league that is as hard-hit by key injuries as the Canes.
Staal was even able to score a third-period goal to help nail down consecutive wins for just the fourth time this season. The Canes can accomplish their first three-game winning streak at Toronto on Tuesday night.
“I was ready to go and we talked about it before the game,” said Staal, who awoke at 4:30 a.m. in Toronto to catch a flight to Charlotte, and then on to Raleigh-Durham International Airport in time for the game. “It was a bit of a long day, but if I’m going to be here I’m going to play.
“It has been an emotional couple of days, and anytime something like that happens in your life it’s difficult,” Staal added. “We’ve got a very strong faith and we’ll remember all the good times with her and we’ll get through it one day at a time, that’s all you can do.”
Ward stopped 31 of 32 shots, was marvelous in a poor first period by his teammates and has now allowed just nine goals in his last five games.
“We weren’t exactly ready to play in that first period, but it’s my job to be ready and give our team a chance when things aren’t going as we hoped,” said Ward, who moved within two of the franchise’s all-time victory list with his 128th win. “The good thing is we turned it around and played a great second period and a great third period.”
“It was terrible in the beginning, but that’s what goaltending does for you,” Brind’Amour said of Ward’s performance. “It seemed like Cam was just on tonight. Even the good chances they had he looked like he was right there, that’s when you know a goalie is on.”
Carolina picked it up in the second period after its lackluster first, registering 13 shots while getting goals from Tom Kostopoulos and Brind’Amour.
The Kostopoulos goal came just 40 seconds after the Senators broke on top 7:04 into the second. Jussi Jokinen made a nice play along the boards to send Brandon Sutter and Kostopoulos streaking into the Ottawa zone 2-on-1 and Kostopoulos was able to get a diving stick on Sutter’s backhanded pass to beat Pascal Leclaire before slamming into the boards.
“It was a great pass,” Kostopoulos said. “All I had to do was tap it in.
Brind’Amour’s 447th career goal came late in the second and from near the blue line on what looked at first like a harmless shot. But the captain kept his shot low and was able to beat the screened goalie on his glove side.
Kostopoulos has now logged at least 10 minutes a game for 19 straight after hitting that mark in just 14 of his first 25 games in a Carolina uniform.
“Tom has built and gotten stronger and more physical and with Cole and Ruutu out you lose some of that size up front and he becomes a more valuable player for us,” coach Paul Maurice said of Kostopoulos, who has three goals in the first 10 days of January. “And Roddy is playing better, he’s moving the puck better and he’s making good decisions with the puck. And there is some confidence there, too. He’s got three points in three games and we’re going to use him more.”
“No one likes the injuries we’re going through, but with it comes opportunity for guys that don’t usually get a ton of ice time and a lot of guys are taking advantage of it,” Kostopoulos said.
Meanwhile, Staal played 18:41 with three shots and three hits.after not skating for four days.
“We didn’t come out well and there was a play early in the second period where he put a good hit on one of their defenseman in the far corner and I thought that was real good leadership right there,” Maurice said. “He’s been through an awful lot in a week but he sensed we needed one of our bigger guys to step up and do a thing like that. I would like to think that coming here was a good place because he and his family have been through a real tough stretch.”
Carolina spent the majority of the first period turning the puck over and was lucky to escape the opening 20 minutes with a scoreless tie, considering Ward had to stop 16 shots and the Canes had just five harmless attempts on Pascal Leclaire.
Ottawa couldn’t crack Ward despite a two-man advantage for 37 seconds, a partial breakaway late in the period that was shot wide by Mike Fisher and a point-blank chance by Jonathan Cheechoo 2:22 into the game that was snared out of the air by the goalie’s glove.
“They are a fast team and we were too slow with everything we did, and not physical enough and not aggressive enough,” Maurice said of the first 20 minutes. “But we got better.”
NOTES: Brind’Amour has 46 points in 60 career games against Ottawa. … Joni Pitkanen had a season-best and team-high seven shots. … Ward started his 12th straight game in net. … Matt Cullen extended his point streak to four games with an assist on the last Carolina goal. … Carson scored his first goal in his 21st career game. … Ray Whitney has two goals and two assists in two games against Ottawa this season … Brind’Amour’s 13:34 of ice time was his most since Nov. 23. … The Canes improved to 10-10-3 at home.