After allowing two goals to the visiting Ottawa Senators in the first period to face an early deficit in an important game, the Canes countered with two of their own in the next 52 seconds and never looked back in an eventual 4-3 victory.
Chad LaRose scored twice for the Canes – his first multi-goal game since these two teams last met in Raleigh on Nov. 17 – as his team hit the four-goal mark for the first time since Feb. 25, a span of 11 games.
“Some (other) games have been better offensively for us and they haven’t hit the back of the net,” said LaRose, who scored the second of the Canes’ rapid-fire goals in the first period before adding another late in the second. “Tonight they did, and hopefully that gets some confidence going in the guys.”
Despite the victory, the Canes still trail Buffalo by three points for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, with the Sabres simultaneously taking a 2-0 victory over Montreal. While they could have been closer with a little luck from around the league, the situation could have been dire had the Canes failed to come back from their early hole.
Ottawa’s Colin Greening opened the scoring at the 7:56 mark of the first period by depositing the rebound from a Jason Spezza breakaway after Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward made a nice save – one of his 36 on the night. That started a sluggish stretch for the home team, with Marek Svatos increasing the lead six minutes later.
“That first goal definitely let some of the air out,” said Erik Cole.
Things might have been much different had Tuomo Ruutu not put the Canes on the board just 27 seconds after Svatos’ goal by tipping in a Jussi Jokinen wrist shot. That gave the Canes and their home crowd some life, resulting in LaRose’s wrist shot from the left circle that beat Curtis McElhinney short side just 25 seconds later.
“It was a good response by Ruutu’s line to go down and just put the puck at the net,” said Cole. “Ruutie, like he always does, does a great job in front of the net, gets his stick on it and we’re back in the game.”
“Once we got one, I think we settled down a little bit,” said LaRose.
The frenzy calmed during a long scoreless stretch of the second period, although Ward and McElhinney each had to make tough shorthanded stops on Zack Smith and Eric Staal, respectively. However, LaRose would eventually give his team its first lead by carrying the puck in a three-on-two rush and firing another wrister into the net.
The two-goal effort gave LaRose 4 points in his last four games, which is more than any other Hurricanes player.
“His last five or 10 games, he’s really brought his intensity level up and is playing great,” said Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice. “He’s got 15 goals now, and that’s a good number for a guy that doesn’t get a lot of power-play time. He’s been real good for us.”
The Canes increased their lead on a pretty tic-tac-toe passing play unlike anything they put together during a 5-goals-in-four-games stretch they posted as a team one week earlier. Cole started the play with a steal in the offensive zone, resulting in a fast-developing three-on-two with Staal and Cory Stillman. Stillman received the puck from Cole and dished to Staal in the slot, only for Staal to give it right back for the finish.
“It was a beautiful goal and just shows how unselfish our captain is,” said LaRose, referring to Staal’s decision to pass up the shot despite carrying a six-game goal drought into the contest. “People might think he’s trying to score, but then he makes sure it gets to the back of the net with a great play.”
“The first three goals were the opposite of fancy plays,” said Maurice. “They’re just throwing pucks at the net and they go in, and then on the last one everybody wants to touch it.”
There were some nervous moments near the end of the game that coincided with Staal’s exit from the lineup with about 10 minutes remaining. Ottawa defenseman Erik Karlsson had brought his team within one with just over five minutes remaining, setting off a flurry of chances in the Hurricanes’ end. However, they were able to hold off the challenge, with Chris Neil coming closest to scoring as a loose puck sat in the crease in front of Ward.
After the game, Maurice said that Staal did not return for precautionary reasons and should be fine to play the team’s next game in Tampa Bay on Friday night. That game, which begins a back-to-back, home-and-home series with the Lightning, should be a different challenge than the Canes’ two most recent games against the bottom two teams in the East.
“We go into Tampa and play a team that’s still worried about moving up and down in the standings for a playoff spot,” said Stillman. “You’ll see a different game there.”
NOTES: The Canes have now won consecutive games for just the second time in March, echoing wins over Florida and Buffalo to start the month … Carolina has won seven consecutive home games against Ottawa … Jerome Samson drew two penalties in just 4:37 of ice time … Karlsson entered the night as one of three defensemen to lead his team in scoring … LaRose had 6 points in the four-game season series with Ottawa … Spezza, who had 2 assists in this game, has 33 points in 26 career games against Carolina … Ottawa defenseman Patrick Wiercioch made his NHL debut.