|FLA||1||2||1||(0 - 0)||4|
|CAR||1||1||3||(0 - 0)||5|
The Carolina Hurricanes rallied around their fallen captain the other night. This time, the Canes put in a third-period effort Rod Brind’Amour would have been proud of and remained the team to beat in the Southeast Division with a furious comeback over the Florida Panthers.
Carolina trailed 4-2 early in the third after Nathan Horton scored on a penalty shot, but Eric Staal, Trevor Letowski and Ray Whitney notched goals in the final 14:25 as the Canes won their third straight 5-4 Saturday night – the team’s best winning streak since back in October.
John Grahame won his first game in two months in relief of Cam Ward, coming up with a series of key saves down the stretch to hold off the Panthers, who along with Atlanta and Washington started the day within cat breath of the Canes for first in the division.
With 6.9 seconds left and clinging to a one-goal lead, Staal won a face-off Brind’Amour normally would have taken to the left of Grahame to secure the victory.
“I was comfortable, actually I gritted my teeth a little bit harder,” said Staal, who won seven of eight draws in the third after losing 13 of 19 in the first two periods. “Rod’s the best in the league at it so I had to make sure I was on the top of my game in that instance.”
“That’s what kind of set this game apart for us, a lot of little plays like that. It all kind of added up,” Grahame said.
“It was everybody, everybody had a piece of that win tonight,” added coach Peter Laviolette, whose club is 8-4 in its last 12 games. “That’s what makes it a special win.”
Whitney’s fourth game-winner of the season and 23rd overall came with 4:21 left off a nice backhanded pass from newly-acquired defenseman Joe Corvo, who joined the rush in a hard-skating and overwhelming third period by the Canes.
“Before every game in the room here it feels like a playoff game,” said Corvo, who came to the Canes this week from Eastern Conference leading Ottawa in the Commodore-Stillman trade. “Good things can only happen when you’re playing that hard, when you feel like there is that much on the line.
“We’re not as comfortable here was we were in Ottawa, but this team is better than it’s record from what I’ve seen so far. It would just be a shame for us not to put our best foot forward and make the playoffs.”
Ward, starting his 13th straight game, was pulled with 6:37 left in the second after allowing three goals on just 13 shots, including scores by Horton and Rostislav Olesz five minutes apart to give Florida a 3-2 lead heading into the third.
Ah, the third period -- also known as Carolina’s period. The Canes have scored 73 goals over the final 20 minutes of games, compared to 50 first period and 53 second period goals.
“I didn’t think we quit the whole night,” said Staal, who scored his 29th. “We’ve competed the last few games and it’s nice to see. With some guys out of the lineup it’s going to take that extra work ethic and right now it’s there.”
Carolina’s second-period goal came from Sergei Samsonov, who continues to pay huge dividends since being acquired from Chicago on Jan. 8. Samsonov has six goals and seven assists in 17 games with the Canes.
Matt Cullen returned to the lineup after missing seven games with vision problems stemming from a hit he suffered on Dec. 26 and played the point on the power play and an occasional fourth-line shift, and Corvo was back after missing one game with the flu.
Carolina got its first goal 3:21 into the first period from an unlikely source as Wade Brookbank circled from behind the net and stuffed the puck past Tomas Vokoun on just his second shot in 19 games this season.
The Canes quickly surrendered the lead three minutes later when a shot from Brett McLean appeared to tick off the skate of defenseman Glen Wesley and leaked off the inside of one of Ward’s pads.
Ward didn’t make his first save of the period until there was 4:32 left, but had to make a couple nice stops on a pair of late Florida power plays, including one against Carolina nemesis Olli Jokinen on a close-in backhander.
Carolina improved to 18-4-2 this season when scoring first and to 11-8-1 within the Southeast Division. Twelve of the final 21 games are against divisional foes.
“It’s getting down the crunch time here and the guys really turned on the jets,” Grahame said. “We knew they played last night and we kept attacking, attacking, attacking.”
“You’ve got to like it, we’re playing teams we need to beat to make sure that we’re in the playoffs and first in our division,” added Staal. “We’re all looking forward to competing over the next month and then go from there.”
NOTES: Brookbank’s last goal came on Oct. 21, 2006. The Carolina tough guy has quite a career shooting percentage with five goals on 20 shots. … Cullen’s 31st assist is a career best. He had 30 in 2000-01 and 2001-02 for Anaheim. … Ladd’s assist on the Samsonov goal extended his career-best point streak to five games. He has eight points in his last seven games. … Letowski had his first multi-point game of the season.
|Wade Brookbank Backhand shot - ASST: Matt Cullen|
1 - 0 CAR
|Brett McLean Wrist shot - ASST: Ville Peltonen , Olli Jokinen|
1 - 1 Tie
|PPG - Rostislav Olesz Wrist shot - ASST: Stephen Weiss , Jay Bouwmeester|
2 - 1 FLA
|Sergei Samsonov Deflected shot - ASST: Trevor Letowski , Andrew Ladd|
2 - 2 Tie
|Nathan Horton Snap shot - ASST: Stephen Weiss|
3 - 2 FLA
|PS - Nathan Horton Wrist shot - ASST: NONE|
4 - 2 FLA
|Eric Staal Wrist shot - ASST: Erik Cole|
4 - 3 FLA
|Trevor Letowski Deflected shot - ASST: Tim Conboy , Andrew Ladd|
4 - 4 Tie
|Ray Whitney Wrist shot - ASST: Joe Corvo , Eric Staal|
5 - 4 CAR
|Niclas Wallin Hi-sticking against Nathan Horton|
|Andrew Ladd Interference on goalkeeper against Tomas Vokoun|
|Ruslan Salei Hi-sticking against Erik Cole|
|Jay Bouwmeester Tripping against Ryan Bayda|
|Joe Corvo Boarding against Gregory Campbell|
|Olli Jokinen Holding against Eric Staal|
|David Brine Interference against Keith Aucoin|
|Eric Staal Hooking against Bryan Allen|
|Tim Gleason Misconduct (10 min)|
|Brett McLean Hooking against Erik Cole|