On Thursday at the RBC Center, the Carolina Hurricanes skated away 2-1 winners over the Florida Panthers despite a sluggish performance that saw them out-shot by a margin of 42-22.
Cory Stillman and Eric Staal gave the Canes a 2-0 lead 15 minutes in, but it was all Cam Ward after that in a game that won’t be a memorable one for coach Paul Maurice.
“I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time dissecting what happened here tonight,” he said.
With Thursday’s game against Buffalo on the horizon – a contest that has significant playoff implications for the Eastern Conference’s eighth and ninth seeds – there was a sense that the Hurricanes may have looked past the 12th-place Panthers, who sent away many of their top players leading up to Monday’s trade deadline.
“The biggest mistake that you make in this league is to take a look at a team and think that it somehow will get easy,” said Maurice. “It’s just not an easy sport, and that’s what’s great about it.”
“They’ve always been known to be a hard-working team, and they had quite a few changes in their lineup,” said Ward, who made 41 saves in his 23rd straight start in goal. “You know when guys get opportunities to play they’re going to be working for jobs.”
Cory Stillman, traded from the Panthers just five days ago, knew what to expect.
“They’re in the game every night, and the longer you let them hang in there the better they get,” he said.
Stillman opened the scoring just 5:25 into the first period as a result of Erik Cole’s trademark power move down the right wing. Rather than take the puck directly to goaltender Scott Clemmensen, Cole instead sent it towards the goal where Eric Staal tied up a defender, allowing Stillman to sneak in and score.
Later, on the first of two Hurricanes’ power plays, Stillman looked as though he was going to shoot but instead sent a seeing-eye cross-ice pass right to the tape of a wide-open Staal, who netted an easy tap-in.
“Cory is going to make two or three plays a game that we really don’t have anybody else that can make,” said Maurice. “That pass on the goal is one of them.”
Three games into his second stint in Carolina, Stillman now has 3 points in as many games.
Carolina ran into trouble from the second period on, with Stephen Weiss scoring just under four minutes into the middle frame. That was when the Panthers, who actually trailed 8-7 in shots after the first, began to pour it on.
“We sat on our heels a little bit in the second and third and played a lot in our own zone,” said Stillman.
As has been the case many times this season, Ward stood tall to preserve the lead and allow Carolina to improve its record to 21-0-0 when leading after two periods.
“Early they didn’t get a lot, then he got called into action there to make some good saves,” said Maurice. “He was our best player, and we’re happy to have him.”
Tuesday’s contest marked defenseman Bryan Allen’s first game as a Hurricane, and in an interesting twist, also his first game against his former team. As recently as Monday afternoon, Allen was a five-year Panther prior to the trade that sent him to Carolina in exchange for Sergei Samsonov.
According to Maurice, who felt Allen played a solid game through 16 minutes of ice time, that familiarity kept the blue liner from consistently playing his trademark rugged style.
“He play with a little bit of edge and is a little mean, and I think you’ll see him when he plays against opponents he doesn’t care for play that game on every shift and every hit,” said Maurice. “He’s a big, strong, physical man.”
“It definitely wasn’t the easiest game to play in my career,” Allen acknowledged.
Staal, who missed Saturday’s game in Montreal after suffering a hit to the head one night earlier, admitted that he labored through the first part of the game but otherwise felt fine.
“For the most part, it felt pretty good,” he said.
Having escaped with the win against Florida, the Canes can now turn their full attention to Buffalo, who beat the New York Rangers Tuesday night to stay within two points of Carolina with two games in hand.
“We know that we’ll have to be better against Buffalo,” said Ward.
NOTES: With his assist, Cole moved out of a 10th-place tie with Andrew Cassels in franchise scoring with his 351st point. He is now tied with Ray Ferraro for 9th … Ward is now five starts shy of tying his career-long starts streak of 28. In order to break the franchise mark set by Arturs Irbe in 2000-01 (40), he would have to play every game for the rest of the season … Carolina is now 26-5-3 vs. Florida at the RBC Center … Samsonov skated 18:45 for Florida and posted an even plus/minus rating with no points.