Tuomo Ruutu led the way with one goal and three assists, while Sergei Samsonov and Jeff Skinner had two goals apiece in the Canes’ 6-3 win that saw future Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur pulled after allowing three goals in the game’s eight minutes.
“The goal every game is to get off to a good start, and we did that by having short shifts and getting the puck in deep early,” said the 18-year-old Skinner, who now has 11 goals on the season. “If you look at our first three goals they were all rebounds, and that’s a credit to our guys working hard down low.”
The Canes would add another quick tally on backup Johan Hedberg in the following minutes, Zac Dalpe’s first in the NHL, to take a 4-0 lead, but would allow the visitors to score three of the next four and avoid the easy victory that seemed to be coming against the league’s last-placed team.
“It was a tough start for them,” said Ruutu of the Devils, who played the previous night in New Jersey while the Canes sat idle at home. “It could have been a totally different game if we wouldn’t have scored in the beginning.”
“It was a real good first period, and a lot of what we did in the Ottawa game I thought we brought home with us,” said Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice, referring his team’s recent 4-0 win in Canada’s capital city. “We got away from those things, and they’re hard things to do and they’re not a lot of fun like staying onto the puck and grinding and all those good things. It’s a work in progress to get everyone to do it consistently.”
After the Canes jumped out to their quick lead and chased Brodeur for the fourth time in their last 18 regular-season meetings, the Devils got the next two goals through Rod Pelley near the end of the first period and Travis Zajac just 49 seconds into the second. With the visitors showing signs of life, Samsonov’s second goal of the evening on a five-on-three power play, the Canes’ third man-advantage goal of the night, that temporarily shifted the momentum.
“It was a big time in the game and a big momentum shifter,” said Skinner, who manned the point on the two-man advantage along with Eric Staal.
Despite that effort, the Devils refused to go away when Patrik Elias scored near the beginning of the third to cut the lead down to two on a slap shot from the left circle. That’s as close as it would get, with Skinner getting his second of the night in the closing minutes as a result of a good shift with linemates Ruutu and Chad LaRose.
“I thought Skinner, Ruutu and LaRose were the best line that we had, and it’s not the offense that’s adherent to the game and the way it’s supposed to be played,” said Maurice. “The last goal was an example of doing all the right things – battling it out in our end, hanging onto it in the offensive zone, the motion and the grit. I really liked their game a lot.”
Although Dalpe’s goal didn’t seem critical to the game’s outcome at the time, it ended up standing as the game-winner when everything was said and done. With Ryan Carter parked squarely in front of Hedberg, Dalpe took a pass from Ruutu and fired it low, scoring in the first game since being recalled from Charlotte of the American Hockey League on Friday.
“I just didn’t know what was going on,” recalled the 21-year-old Dalpe of his scoring play. “Carter was getting pushed in front of the net and there were a lot of things going through my mind. I don’t know if I got it or not, but they gave me credit for it so I’ll take it.”
“I think that there’s something there with the speed,” said Maurice of Dalpe, who was playing left wing instead of his usual center. “Even if it takes him a while because it’s a new position for him … I think his speed will buy him some time. I liked his game.”
Dalpe’s effort went hand in hand with those of other young players on the roster, including Skinner and Zach Boychuk, 21, who was scoreless against the Devils but has 3 points in his last 3 games. While Boychuk and Dalpe have made impacts as recent recalls from Charlotte, Skinner, who has been with the team all season, has also stepped up his contributions of late.
“He looks like he’s getting stronger, especially in the last two games,” said Maurice. “I don’t know if he can do it all year, but since he’s gone back to center, he’s playing like he’s trying to prove that he can play center ice in the NHL. He looks like he’s going to be able to do it.”
The Hurricanes have now won three consecutive games as part of an up-and-down stretch that has seen them win four, lose three and then win three. Prior to that, the team had not strung together more than two of any result in consecutive games.
While they’ll take the win and their current momentum, it seems they won’t forget about the second half of their game against the Devils.
NOTES: Ruutu now has points in four straight games, posting 2 goals and 6 assists in that span … With an assist on Samsonov’s second goal, Staal took sole possession of fourth place in franchise history with his 254th assist, passing Andrew Cassels … New Jersey has now lost 10 consecutive road games, tying the second-longest stretch in franchise history… The Canes tied a season high with three power-play goals, equaling efforts from 11/26 at Boston and 11/7 vs. Edmonton. They did so against the league’s 4th ranked power play.