|FLA||2||1||1||(0 - 0)||4|
|CAR||2||2||2||(0 - 0)||6|
There were a bunch of firsts, a series of successful individual and team comebacks, and a hard-working player who made the Carolina brass look pretty darn smart as the Hurricanes rallied to beat the Florida Panthers 6-4 in the season opener Friday night.
Joni Pitkanen scored his first goal in a Carolina uniform, for the moment making the Erik Cole trade an afterthought, teen-ager Brandon Sutter added his first career assist and Tim Gleason notched a career-high three assists.
On the comeback side, the Canes rallied from an early two-goal deficit, and got goals from captain Rod Brind’Amour and Matt Cullen, both of whom were returning from serious injury last season.
Then there was 31-year-old Dan LaCouture, a journeyman NHL player who stuck with the team after a camp tryout, scoring the game-winner 3:32 into the final period -- his first goal since February 2006.
“Whatever we asked him in camp he did,” coach Peter Laviolette said of LaCouture. “I think everybody is happy to see him score a goal.”
Carolina’s overall game may not have looked pretty at times, sloppy to say the least on defense on occasion, and the Canes needed some big pad saves from Cam Ward while allowing 33 shots. But in the end it was two points against a Florida team that knocked Carolina out of the playoff race on the final day of the 2007-08 regular season at the RBC Center.
“We’re sure excited with the guys we have in this locker room and we know if we play to our potential we could be very successful this year,” Ward said. “Joni really looked good and our defense as a whole can really move the puck.”
And the victory was all accomplished without a single point from NHL All-Star MVP Eric Staal – likely the last time the Canes will score six goals without Staal scratching on the score sheet.
Gleason and Frank Kaberle, given a larger role along the blue line with the retirement of Glen Wesley and Bret Hedican, came through with a combined five assists, while Pitkanen made a positive debut with a goal late in the second that gave the Canes a 4-3 lead.
LaCouture scored his goal off a rebound as he broke free and charged the net down the right wing early in the third
“I just want to reward and thank them (the coaching staff ) with my play,” LaCouture said. “They stuck their neck out for me. I don’t want to let anybody down. I just want to show up every night and play as hard as I can – that’s all I’ve ever done my whole career is just play hard and work hard.”
“Good for Danny, that’s what we need, everybody chipping in one way or another,” Brind’Amour added. “That’s really what happened tonight.”
Nathan Horton scored on a power-play goal midway through the final period to close the gap to 5-4, and Carolina had to kill off a late hooking penalty to Tuomo Ruutu before Cullen’s nifty empty-net backhander from a sharp angle along the right boards sealed it with 26 seconds left.
The Canes took three penalties and fell behind 2-0 less than seven minutes into the game after missing three early opportunities with high shots over the Florida net, sending a large sigh through the sellout crowd at the RBC Center.
However, Carolina rallied over the final 9 1-2 minutes of the opening period when Ruutu tipped in a shot from Dennis Seidenberg on the power play and Ray Whitney picked up a missed Gleason shot off the back boards, circled in front and waited out Tomas Vokoun before notching the game-tying score at 2-2.
NOTES: Laviolette showed confidence and gave some immediate responsibility to Sutter, the team’s top pick in the 2007 draft, playing him with Chad LaRose on the first penalty kill unit. … Whitney’s first-period goal was his 200th point in 211 games with the Hurricanes. … Former Canes winger Cory Stillman scored Florida’s second goal. … Laviolette dressed six defensemen with Anton Babchuk and Josef Melichar scratched, along with rookie Zach Boychuk, who is still nursing a wrist injury. … Seven of Carolina’s 10 assists came from defensemen. … Pitkanen played a team-high 22 minutes and was a plus 3.
|David Booth (1) ASST: Jay Bouwmeester (1), Bryan Allen (1)|
1 - 0 FLA
|PPG - Cory Stillman (1) ASST: Stephen Weiss (1), Bryan McCabe (1)|
2 - 0 FLA
|PPG - Tuomo Ruutu (1) ASST: Dennis Seidenberg (1), Frantisek Kaberle (1)|
2 - 1 FLA
|Ray Whitney (1) ASST: Tim Gleason (1), Patrick Eaves (1)|
2 - 2 Tie
|PPG - Rod Brind'Amour (1) ASST: Frantisek Kaberle (2)|
3 - 2 CAR
|Radek Dvorak (1) ASST: David Booth (1), Kamil Kreps (1)|
3 - 3 Tie
|Joni Pitkanen (1) ASST: Tim Gleason (2)|
4 - 3 CAR
|Dan Lacouture (1) ASST: Niclas Wallin (1), Brandon Sutter (1)|
5 - 3 CAR
|PPG - Nathan Horton (1) ASST: Cory Stillman (1), Nick Boynton (1)|
5 - 4 CAR
|EN - Matt Cullen (1) ASST: Ryan Bayda (1), Tim Gleason (3)|
6 - 4 CAR
|Joni Pitkanen Hooking against Rostislav Olesz|
|Eric Staal Hooking against Brett McLean|
|Wade Belak Interference against Sergei Samsonov|
|Tuomo Ruutu Hooking against Gregory Campbell|
|Jay Bouwmeester Hooking against Eric Staal|
|Tim Gleason Holding against David Booth|
|Wade Belak Holding the stick against Ray Whitney|
|Dennis Seidenberg Kneeing against David Booth|
|Tuomo Ruutu Hooking against Jay Bouwmeester|
|Cory Murphy Interference against Brandon Sutter|
|SA: 23||TOI: 59:27|
|Saves: 18||EV: 16 - 19|
|PIM: 0||PP: 1 - 3|
|SV%: .783||SH: 1 - 1|
|SA: 33||TOI: 59:43|
|Saves: 29||EV: 22 - 24|
|PIM: 0||PP: 5 - 7|
|SV%: .879||SH: 2 - 2|