Tracking the Storm: Analysis
-- The Carolina Hurricanes jumped out in front of the Florida Panthers 3-1 early and never looked back, as they secured a 5-1 win with just one game remaining before the Olympic break. Five different players netted goals for the Canes, and Anton Khudobin made 34 saves en route to his 13th victory of the season. “That was the game plan, to come out and stay on them,” defenseman Brett Bellemore said. “I thought we rolled it pretty well today. Everyone contributed, and everyone was in play. It was a great team win.”
-- Head coach Kirk Muller talked this morning about the importance of having a strong first period, especially against a team that played the night before. The Canes, for the most part, did just that, grabbing a 2-0 lead midway through the period with goals from Riley Nash, his fourth in 10 games, and Alexander Semin. Some aggressiveness from Florida cut it to 2-1, but the Canes reclaimed a two-goal lead late in the period when Bellemore netted his second-career goal. “Once we got the lead we kind of backed off and started to play more of pond hockey,” Muller said. “It got a little bit too open for us, and it was and up-and-down kind of game. We just had to tighten it up again at times.”
-- Bellemore had a game worth noting, as he was an assist shy of a Gordie Howe hat trick with a goal and a fight. He tussled with Erik Gudbranson late in the second period, a tussle that featured two big boys and ended in Bellemore tossing Gudbranson to the ice. “I think Beller realized that you’re only as good as your last game. He has to play hard and compete,” Muller said. “When he got a chance to get back in, he’s playing aggressive again, and he got his big goal tonight. It’s his overall physical presence that I think has been good since he’s been back in the lineup.”
-- As noted, Nash is carrying a bit of a hot stick as of late. His tally tonight marked goals in two straight games, and he has four in his last 10 games after having just three in 37 games prior to that. He’s also a career point-per-game player versus Florida with five points (3g, 2a) in as many games. “The line is seeing some nice chemistry,” Muller said of the fourth line that Nash is centering. “They’re producing right now, and he’s been pretty accurate with his shots in the last 10 games. He’s one of our hotter goal scorers right now.”
-- Nash on being informed that he has four goals in his last 10 games: “Well that’s great. That’s a lot more than I had at the start of the year, so that’s good.”
-- More Nash, this time on his linemates Tuomo Ruutu and Drayson Bowman: “My linemates have made some really good plays on all the goals,” he said. “The more and more we play together, we get more and more comfortable.”
-- After being just 1-for-12 on the power play in their last four games, the Canes found the back of the net on the man advantage tonight in the simplest of ways: a point shot from Andrej Sekera that found the back of the net through traffic in front. A Slovakian Olympian, Sekera continues to pad his career-high scoring numbers, as he now has nine goals this season. “We don’t want to complicate it (the power play),” Sekera said. “We want to put a body in front and get shots through.”
-- Meanwhile, at the other end of the ice, Khudobin was as sharp as he’s looked as of late. The Canes dodged a few bullets early in the second period, as Khudobin stoned Nick Bjugstad on a breakaway opportunity and then got an assist from the post on a bid from Sean Bergenheim. “We came out strong, but we had breakdowns,” Muller said. “They got behind our D, and they were starting to be a riskier team and taking chances. That was the part we weren’t happy about tonight. But when we did break down, he made the key saves. That was big for us.”
-- Bellemore on Khudobin: “He’s unbelievable. The defense has a good trust in him.”
-- John-Michael Liles left tonight’s game about midway through the third period with a lower-body injury. Muller was uncertain of his status for Saturday’s game. “He’ll come in tomorrow, and we’ll check it out and see how he is,” he said. “Depends on how he feels tomorrow. He’ll probably be a game-time decision.”
-- Some random notables: With four shots tonight, Eric Staal now ranks first on the franchise’s all-time shots list (2,542), surpassing Ron Francis. … With the win, the Hurricanes improve to 30-7-4 at home against the Panthers since moving to Raleigh before the 1999-2000 season. … The Canes also improved to 16-1-4 when scoring first and 12-1-2 when leading after one period. … Ruutu skated in his 600th career NHL game tonight, recording 216 points (90g, 126a) in 372 games with the Hurricanes.
-- Throwaway: A hat trick of Olympians factored in on the scoresheet tonight. Semin and Sekera had goals, and Ruutu posted an assist.
-- The Hurricanes will close out their pre-Olympic schedule and a four-game homestand with a 6 p.m. tilt versus Montreal on Saturday. Two points would bring the Canes within a point of third place in the Metropolitan Division, still with games in hand. “We want to go into [the break] with a good feeling,” Bellemore said.
RALEIGH, N.C. - The Carolina Hurricanes jumped on the Florida Panthers for three first-period goals and goaltender Anton Khudobin stopped 34 shots in a 5-1 victory at PNC Arena on Friday.
Five players scored for the Hurricanes (26-21-9), who have won six of their past. Florida (22-29-7) heads into the break for the 2014 Sochi Olympics having lost five of six.
Khudobin was sharp throughout, including a left-pad save on Nick Bjugstad breakaway early in the third period, and raised his record to 13-5-0.
The Hurricanes jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first period with two quick goals on shots from the high slot. Tuomo Ruutu held the puck in along the boards and centered to Riley Nash, who beat Tim Thomas for his eighth of the season at 9:17. Ruutu, playing in his 600th NHL game, earned the only assist.
Alexander Semin made it 2-0 at 10:44, throwing a puck through traffic and past Thomas. The Hurricanes had worked the puck around the offensive zone before Andrej Sekera's shot popped out to Semin, who scored for the eighth time in his past 10 games.
The Panthers trimmed the lead to 2-1 at 15:30 on Bjugstad's 13th of the season. After a Dylan Olsen shot from the point, Bjugstad's second-chance bid appeared to be stopped by Khudobin, but the puck trickled past his stick side.
Carolina pushed the lead back to two after a hard-working forecheck kept the Panthers hemmed in their zone. With the Panthers unable to gain possession, the puck squirted loose to Brett Bellemore, who blasted a shot from inside the top of the circle past Thomas at 18:21 for his second of the season.
In the second period, the Hurricanes picked up where they left off. Florida turned the puck over, leading to an Eric Staal shot between the circles. Thomas made the save, but the rebound fell behind him to Jiri Tlusty, who tapped it in at 4:36.
That spelled the end of the night for Thomas, who was replaced by Scott Clemmensen. He finished with 10 saves on 14 shots.
Sekera made it 5-1 at 12:48 of the third period, threading a shot through bodies from just inside the blue line.
Hurricanes defenseman John-Michael Liles left the game with a lower-body injury in the third period and did not return.