Twenty-one-year-old Brandon Sutter scored the overtime winner and 18-year-old Jeff Skinner opened the scoring in the third period in a 2-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche Friday night. That was all the offense the home team would need to support Ward, who had to be sharp in a 34-save outing as he dueled with equally-impressive counterpart Craig Anderson.
“He bailed us out a few times early,” said Sutter of Ward. “In the first couple of shifts they had some close chances and he was there to stand on his head, and we kind of built our game around it.”
While the Hurricanes improved their game dramatically after a sluggish start that did not see them register their first shot on goal until the 11:15 mark of the first period, an innocent wrister by Chad LaRose that drew sarcastic cheers from the crowd, Ward was sharp when needed.
His best efforts came in the second period, when Sutter, Jay Harrison and Jamie McBain took back-to-back-to-back minor penalties, resulting in a prolonged period of penalty killing that the Hurricanes were able to survive.
“That gave us a lot of lift,” said coach Paul Maurice of the kills, which came on the only three penalties his team took during the game. “(Colorado) didn’t get much, and then right after that we had a great shift and seemed to control the rest of that period.”
Although the Canes immediately began to generate chances following the key penalty kills, they did not break through until Skinner’s exceptional effort at the 4:50 mark of the third period. The rookie looked dominant throughout his entire shift, ultimately scoring when he collected his own rebound on a wraparound chance, kicked the puck to his stick and roofed a backhand top-shelf over Anderson.
“In tight games, he plays his best hockey in the third period of the game,” said Maurice of the NHL’s rookie scoring leader. “That tells us that he’s not dragging, he’s not fatiguing and that he’s a very competitive young man.”
Colorado’s Milan Hejduk would tie the game later in the period with a wrist shot from the left circle that whizzed by Ward’s glove and ended the goaltender’s shutout bid. However, it didn’t take long for the Canes to settle things in overtime, with Sutter’s winner coming just 1:16 into the extra session.
Having taken a pass along the boards from Joni Pitkanen, Sutter came down the right wing with speed before beating Anderson on the far side for his fifth goal of the season and first since the Nov. 19 game at Pittsburgh.
“We put a big weight on him to play against the other team’s best at his age,” said Maurice of Sutter’s defensive responsibilities. “I think he takes that very seriously and sometimes he’ll cheat to the defensive side in a good way because he has to to do that job. He’s still got some good skills and hands, so it’s good for him to get such an important goal.”
“It was a good read by (Pitkanen),” said Sutter. “He’s a very offensively-talented defenseman, and when you get out there in overtime he’s pretty much like a forward. He made a good play.”
Players and coach alike noted that the pace of the game was different than the team had experience of late, possibly because of the team’s three-day break between games. That also may have contributed to the early rust, but the Hurricanes seemed to have their legs when needed.
“This was really a speed game,” said Maurice. “After the timeout at the 12-minute mark of the first period we had a lot more jump, a lot more speed and had a second period the way we like to play the game. We had a lot of chances, and I thought their guy was outstanding tonight.”
“It was fast, intense and it kind of felt like a bit of a playoff atmosphere out there,” said Sutter. “We’re definitely excited about the way we played.”
The Canes will again be able to lay it all on the line for Saturday’s tilt in Nashville, as they’ll enjoy a season-long five-day pause before they again hit the road for a weekend trip to Dallas and St. Louis.
“This was the first opportunity that we’ve had to kind of recharge the batteries and regroup,” said Ward. “It only works if you treat it appropriately, and the guys did a good job of taking care of themselves and making sure we came up with a big effort tonight.”
NOTES: The Hurricanes, who entered the game with the league’s 28th-ranked penalty kill, have now killed off 17 of 18 penalties with Maurice crediting a more aggressive approach … The Avs' Kevin Shattenkirk set a franchise record for a rookie defenseman by extending his points streak to eight games. Along with Skinner, he was a runner-up for the NHL’s Rookie of the Month award in November … Erik Cole played his 500th game in a Hurricanes sweater, becoming just the fifth player to do so … Carolina, traditionally a strong team at 4-on-4, has now outscored their opposition 5-1 in such situations this season … Tim Gleason registered a game-high seven hits.