Cam Ward made 42 saves for his fourth shutout of the season, Eric Staal picked up 3 assists and Jeff Skinner became one of the youngest players in league history to score 30 goals in the Canes’ 3-0 victory over Detroit at the RBC Center on Wednesday. The win keeps Carolina’s playoff hopes alive for another few days as they climbed back to within two points of the eighth-place New York Rangers with two games remaining.
After a tough overtime loss to Buffalo on Sunday and some unfavorable results from around the league in the following days, the victory puts some momentum back in Carolina’s favor.
“We’ve been through this now with the up and down of how this season has to go,” said Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice. “It was a really tough loss there the other night, and I’m really proud of the way they had the mental toughness to come back and beat a team like Detroit.”
“We like to think we’re right there, and hopefully we can follow it up here in the last few games and then be where we want to be,” said Staal.
The Hurricanes improved to 12-2-3 when Ward makes 40 saves. The Canes’ franchise goaltender did his best work early in the first period when Detroit, who entered the night as the Western Conference’s No. 3 seed, came firing out of the gates. Most notably, he saved a partial breakaway by Justin Abdelkader before stopping Mike Modano on a point-blank chance and the ensuing battle around his crease.
“That’s what your leaders do,” said Maurice. “He was just on and you could feel it in the net and even the scrums when the pucks got loose, you knew he was coming up with it. You could just feel it from the bench and the players felt it.”
“It’s nice to get rewarded with a shutout, but I can’t take the full credit,” said Ward. “I thought our guys competed once again and we refused to give up. To be able to come and compete against a very difficult team in Detroit speaks a lot about character and a complete team effort.”
Ward’s ability to weather the storm paved the way for defenseman Derek Joslin to give the Hurricanes the lead on a power play early in the second period. Joslin, who is a plus-10 in 15 games with the Hurricanes since arriving via trade with San Jose, collected the puck along the wall, moved toward center ice and took a low slap shot that beat Jimmy Howard.
The goal was Joslin’s first as a Hurricane and just the second of his 32-game NHL career.
“He’s been great,” said Maurice of the 24-year-old Joslin. “We’ve liked his shot and we think he has an offensive upside as well, but his defensive play has been very, very good. He really hasn’t played a lot of hockey in the NHL, so we’re just starting to see what this guy’s capable of.”
“San Jose had a really deep team and I was in and out of the lineup, not playing many minutes and was maybe a little bit afraid to make a mistake,” said Joslin. “I come here and Carolina has been fighting for a playoff spot since February and every game has been intense and fun. I’ve got an opportunity to play and I’ve been able to show them what I can do.”
Skinner added to the Canes’ lead with a nifty wraparound move in the dying minutes of the second period that served as the culmination of several previous scoring chances. By notching his 30th at 18 years and 325 days, he became the seventh-youngest player in NHL history to hit that mark, joining a list that includes Wayne Gretzky, Sidney Crosby and Steve Yzerman.
“No, I guess not at the beginning of the season,” said Skinner of whether or not he could have predicted having so much first-year success. “I’ve been fortunate to play in some great situations with some great linemates.”
Skinner became just the second rookie in franchise history to score 30 goals and first since Sylvain Turgeon in 1983-84.
“He’s gotten better,” said Maurice. “He’s got 30 goals, but with his overall play he’s seemed to pick up his game. That line (with Tuomo Ruutu and Jussi Jokinen) offensively at times has been our best line, and he just seems to relish more pressure.”
The Hurricanes’ lead seemed as though it could be in jeopardy when rookie Drayson Bowman took a four-minute high-sticking penalty at the beginning of the third period, allowing the league’s second-best road power play ample time to get to work. However, the Canes killed it off, with Erik Cole notching his 25th of the season, his highest total since 2006-07, just after the man-advantage expired.
“If the game goes to 2-1 there with time on another penalty, it’s a completely different game,” said Maurice. “We’d probably lose a forward there because Drayson probably would have snuck out the back door and may not have come back to the bench.”
“That’s a huge momentum booster when you can kill off a four-minute power play against one of the best power plays in the league and then immediately score right after,” said Ward. “It definitely got this place going and got our team going.”
To give themselves the best chance of making the postseason, the Canes will have to win each of their remaining two games, beginning with Friday’s contest in Atlanta and continuing into Saturday’s home match-up with Tampa Bay. They’ll also need some help in the form of losses by the Rangers, who host Atlanta tomorrow, and/or the seventh-place Buffalo Sabres.
“Tomorrow we’ll be cheering for the Thrashers and then not cheering for them the next night,” said Staal. “Hopefully they can do a job for us tomorrow night.”
“Certainly we did what we needed to do tonight and there’s some relief in that, but it doesn’t get any easier,” said Ward. “We still know that we have to win our next two games against two difficult teams.”
NOTES: Ward’s shutout was the 16th of his career ... The Canes snapped a six-game losing streak against the Red Wings … Staal has 7 points in his last four games … Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit’s leading scorer, left the game with a lower-body injury in the first period and did not return … Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, who has never finished the season with a negative plus/minus rating in his career, entered the game minus-1 for the season and was minus-2 on the night … Joni Pitkanen logged 17:11 of ice time, his lowest total since Nov.1 and just the third time he’s played under 20 minutes when healthy.