|COL||1||1||0||(0 - 0)||2|
|CAR||1||2||2||(0 - 0)||5|
Sometimes lines are planned out under the watchful eyes of the coaching staff after weeks of practice, sometimes they are put together because of a certain chemistry. And then there is the third reason – necessity.
With the recent injury to Justin Williams, coach Paul Maurice seems to have found a winner with a second line of Matt Cullen centering veteran Ray Whitney, along with perennial checker and opposition pest Chad LaRose.
On Sunday, Cullen was the main hero, notching his first career hat trick with an empty netter after the game was long decided as the Carolina Hurricanes remained hot with a 5-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche – a club they hadn’t beaten in 13 seasons.
The 15 goals scored over this recent three-game winning streak is a season high and kept the Canes within one point of a playoff spot -- and just four points out of fourth place in the Eastern Conference. That’s how tight things have gotten with 21 games left.
“When you look at the standings you can say we’re chasing eighth, but we’re sitting here today four points out of fourth,” Maurice said. “It’s all controlling your emotions over the last 25 or 30 games of the season. If you lose a game like we did against Boston, you have to be able to come back and win the next one. We’ve won four of our last five, but if we hadn’t it would be over. We would be nine points out of that eighth seed and in a world of trouble.”
The last two home wins have been impressive coming off a combined 15-2 RBC pasting last week against Southeast Division rival Florida, Columbus and Boston. In wins over the Lightning and Colorado, the Canes outshot the opponent 80-32.
“The sky is the limit for us,” Cullen said when asked about the team going 10-5 since a season-worst five-game skid a month ago. “There are a few teams within reach for us so it’s exciting to be where we are. With this last stretch we’ve put ourselves in a good position, but it’s important for us to realize we’re not in yet and we’ve got a long way to go. But at least we’re in the hunt. It’s a race now.”
Maybe more important yet again Sunday was the effort and intensity.
“The coaches have pounded it into our heads that we need to jump to loose pucks and skating is where it’s at, that’s our asset on this team,” LaRose said. “When we’re jumping to loose pucks we’re at our best.”
The Canes got off to a rough start with Colorado’s first shot on goal 59 seconds into the game slipping past Cam Ward.
Tim Conboy’s third fight in as many games three minutes later seemed to get Carolina back into the game after a sloppy beginning, and Cullen scored his 17th off a rebound from a LaRose shot. The goal moved Cullen within one point of 400 for his NHL career.
“He’s been a big boost to us,” LaRose said of Conboy, who has three fights in as many games since being recalled from the minors. “We knew we were going to be a bit sluggish coming out because we didn’t practice Saturday, trying to get a little rest, so his fight and his couple of big hits got the crowd into it and got us excited."
Cullen reached that 400-point milestone 1:19 into the second on a wraparound goal to give the Canes a 2-1 lead. That advantage was short-lived as Darcy Tucker got free in front of Ward and scored 53 seconds after Cullen’s second.
Joni Pitkanen, returning to the lineup after missing two games with an upper body injury, gave the Canes the lead for good heading into the third when he poked home a rebound off a Tuomo Ruutu shot as the team skated 4-on-4 late in the second.
Ryan Bayda gave the Canes some breathing room midway through the third despite the team going 0-for-8 on the power play.
Cullen scored his third goal in the final 32 seconds after taking a pass from Whitney and planting the puck into the empty net.
“I feel like I’m getting a bigger role and I enjoy that, any player wants that,” said Cullen, who has played 20 or more minutes in each of the last two wins. “I’m just happy to be able to contribute. I’ll do whatever this team needs to win. I want to be in the playoffs and I want to make another run like we did a few years ago.”
The Canes received a scare midway through the period when Eric Staal, playing in his 315th consecutive game, received a jolt from Ryan Smyth and left the ice favoring his shoulder. After missing one power play shift, Staal returned but couldn’t ignite a poor man-advantage showing in the first period in which the Canes registered just six shots on four scoreless power plays.
NOTES: Cullen has goals in seven of his last 12 games. … After allowing just one first-period shot Friday against Tampa Bay, the Canes allowed just five to Colorado in the opening 20 minutes. … Whitney’s assist on Cullen’s second goal gave him nine 50-point seasons in his career. … Cullen had 10 two-goal games in his career prior to his hat trick. … Staal recorded nine shots one game after registering 10. … Whitney was a plus 4. … Ward reached 25 wins for the third straight season. … The Avs were 12-0-3 against the Canes dating to Feb. 9, 1996, before losing Sunday.
|Wojtek Wolski (14) Wrist shot - ASST: NONE|
1 - 0 COL
|Matt Cullen (17) Wrist shot - ASST: Chad LaRose (7), Joni Pitkanen (20)|
1 - 1 Tie
|Matt Cullen (18) Wrap-around - ASST: Chad LaRose (8), Ray Whitney (32)|
2 - 1 CAR
|Darcy Tucker (6) Wrist shot - ASST: Chris Stewart (7), Brett Clark (11)|
2 - 2 Tie
|Joni Pitkanen (6) Wrist shot - ASST: Tuomo Ruutu (21), Dennis Seidenberg (18)|
3 - 2 CAR
|Ryan Bayda (5) Wrist shot - ASST: Jussi Jokinen (12), Anton Babchuk (11)|
4 - 2 CAR
|EN - Matt Cullen (19) Wrist shot - ASST: Ray Whitney (33)|
5 - 2 CAR
|Milan Hejduk Hi-sticking against Tim Gleason|
|Tim Conboy Fighting (maj) against Chris Stewart|
|Chris Stewart Fighting (maj) against Tim Conboy|
|Milan Hejduk Tripping against Sergei Samsonov|
|Cody McCormick Roughing against Chad LaRose|
|Jussi Jokinen Unsportsmanlike conduct against Darcy Tucker|
|Darcy Tucker Slashing against Jussi Jokinen|
|Cody McCormick Hi-sticking against Dennis Seidenberg|
|Chad LaRose Delaying Game-Puck over glass|
|Anton Babchuk Holding against Ryan Smyth|
|Wojtek Wolski Tripping against Eric Staal|
|Ben Guite Hooking against Tuomo Ruutu|
|Ian Laperriere Tripping against Joni Pitkanen|
|Darcy Tucker Slashing against Patrick Eaves|
|Tuomo Ruutu Delaying Game-Puck over glass|
|SA: 38||TOI: 58:48|
|Saves: 34||EV: 23 - 27|
|PIM: 0||PP: 10 - 10|
|SV%: .895||SH: 1 - 1|
|SA: 19||TOI: 59:49|
|Saves: 17||EV: 14 - 16|
|PIM: 0||PP: 2 - 2|
|SV%: .895||SH: 1 - 1|