Not that he ever doubted their ability to repeat and even build on last season’s success, but coach Paul Maurice was pleased that those two players chose to show it so soon.
“It was good because they get that confidence and grab some of that early,” he said. “Guys like (Eric) Staal can go three or four games without scoring and don’t start questioning themselves, but players that had big years come back and feel like they need to do something early to get that confidence.”
Sutter, who scored 21 goals in his sophomore season following a rookie campaign of just one, tied the game at 1-1 on the power play with just under 10 seconds remaining in the first period. That goal would set the tone for the Canes’ three-goal second, including his own encore that stood up to be the game-winner.
Neither goal was a beautiful finish – the first was a redirect that finished a nice passing play by Jokinen and Jamie McBain, while the second was one of a few unorthodox goals that were scored during the evening.
“I think I took a swing at it and missed it,” said Sutter of what happened after Patrick Dwyer sent him a centering feed from the right wing. “It just kind of went off my skate or something and kind of squeaked past the line.
“I got a couple of greasy ones, but that was fine by me.”
Jokinen could say the same of his goal, which made the game 3-2 midway through the middle frame. On a lengthy five-on-three power play that came with former Hurricane Matt Cullen taking the Wild’s second penalty in 10 seconds, Jokinen’s attempt to find Staal on the opposite side of the crease hit defenseman Nick Shultz’s skate and changed directions on goaltender Niklas Backstrom.
“That’s the first goal from Jussi I can remember that I didn’t think was exactly the way he designed it,” said Maurice.
None of that should take away from his setup of Sutter, a play that was also a good omen for McBain continuing his impressive play from last year, but Jokinen said that his goal in front of the appreciative Finnish fans created special feelings regardless of how it went in.
“I was pretty nervous there in the third period,” he said. “I don’t remember when I was that nervous, probably in the playoffs one and a half years ago. This win meant so much, especially playing in Finland.”
It was just one of three great scoring chances from the blue liner who last played for the Hurricanes two years ago but has shown increased confidence ever since his recent return from Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.
“I felt really comfortable today,” he said, having almost added to his total with a well-placed wrist shot from the short side and one of his trademark slap shots that ended up sitting on the goal line momentarily before being cleared. “The game is not different anywhere – if you play the game you play the game.”
“I thought his game kind of went with that offense,” said Maurice of Babchuk. “As soon as that happened, he became a better offensive player, stronger, made better use of his stick, was physical. Confidence is everything in anything.”
Rookie Zac Dalpe earned his first NHL point on the goal with his setup of Cole from behind the net. Dalpe was one of two Hurricanes making their NHL debuts along with Jeff Skinner, who was robbed by Backstrom on a great chance that would have made the game 5-2.
“It’s one of those things you’ve kind of got to get out of the way and focus on your game,” said Dalpe, who added that he did not feel nervous at any point during the game. “We got the win, so you’ve got to be smiling about that.”
If there’s anything the Canes won’t be smiling about heading into Friday’s rematch, it’s that they nearly let their 4-2 second intermission lead slip away by getting into penalty trouble late in the third period. The Canes were whistled twice in the game’s final 10 minutes, with the Wild’s Brent Burns creating some nervous moments with his late power play goal to bring the game within one.
Still, after having some offensive issues during the preseason that saw them score just 11 goals in six games, including four contests in which they scored just once during regulation time, they were happy to have had a two-goal cushion in the first place.
“There was a concern going in about our offense,” admitted Maurice. “Our offensive chances numbers were good and better than last year’s, we just weren’t converting. We’ll get as many guys as we can on the board in our first week and hope that carries over.”
Rounding out the home-ice experience for the Finns, Maurice said that, in addition to Jokinen, he was pleased with both Joni Pitkanen and Tuomo Ruutu’s games. Pitkanen had one assist and led all skaters with 27:35 of ice time to earn the game’s third star behind Sutter and Jokinen. Ruutu did not find the score sheet but helped set a physical tone.
The Canes get one quick night to enjoy their win, and then it’s back to Hartwall Areena tomorrow to face a Wild team that won’t want to make the long trip home empty-handed.