“Leafs, Hurricanes Streaks Snapped in Raleigh”

The Carolina Hurricanes came out firing on all cylinders Thursday night in Raleigh. The red-hot Toronto Maple Leafs were in town, bringing their six-game winning streak to match up against the ‘Canes’ six-game losing streak. 12,332 joined me in watching a Hurricanes team play like they’ve not seen often this season. From my vantage point on the fifth floor of Raleigh’s PNC Arena, I watched utterly amazed at the game the ‘Canes were putting on the ice. The result was a streak-snapping great night of hockey.

“Aggressive” an understatement

Carolina came out very strong, as did Toronto. Both teams were flying up and down the ice with intensity and determination. Both goalies were on top of their game. Finally, the Hurricanes top line got them on the board first at 11:54, as Eric Staal found Chris Terry in front of the net. It was a textbook example of what Coach Peters has been preaching regarding net front presence. Up to that point, Jonathan Bernier had been impenetrable. He made some incredible saves prior to Terry’s goal and throughout the remainder of the game. But Chris Terry found a gap in the wall:

A couple of minutes later, on a Leafs power play the ‘Canes went up 2-0 on a shorthanded goal by Justin Faulk. It was ‘the Faulker’s” second short-handed goal of the season. Andrej Sekera found a gap in the penalty kill and quickly squeezed the puck to Patrick Dwyer. Dwyer crossed to the surging Faulk who fired right past Jonathan Bernier:

Cam being Cam

Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward was outstanding once again. He did get laced by Dion Phaneuf at 16:55 in the second period, but was stellar the rest of the game. It was simply a superb shot by Phaneuf:

The play in between the pipes of Cam Ward has been consistent all season. He has kept his team in games repeatedly, giving them a chance to win even while the offense has faltered. He saved 25-26 shots tonight and the team was 4-4 on the penalty kill. In the midst of all that has been frustrating for the ‘Canes, Cam Ward has been consistent every time out. Against the Leafs Thursday night, he was finally able to see that consistency rewarded with a win. At 10:48 in the second period, Ward made this nice stop against Phil Kessel:

Ward got sent airborne in the first period on a play that found him landing on all fours after being launched by a falling player.

I asked Ward after the game how he was after that and he said, “I’m fine.”

Powerful play

Toronto is very loyal to the hometown team, the Maple Leafs (Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports)
Toronto is very loyal to the hometown team, the Maple Leafs (Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports)

The play in the third period was largely back and forth until a power play for Toronto midway through the final stanza. The penalty was a result of Phil Kessel’s cagey play. He took a shot at Cam Ward that almost looked to be disguised as a pass. The ensuing rebound was such that Eric Staal had no choice but to self-inflict a hooking penalty to prevent a wide open blast to the net by Joffrey Lupul of the Leafs.

1:04 seconds later, Cody Franson interfered with Nathan Gerbe, and the Hurricanes had about a minute of power play time of their own after the four on four. Andrej Sekera lit the lamp nicely, getting the ‘Canes power play back in gear:

What was so nice about Sekera’s goal was how he held the puck patiently and then launched at Bernier landing the puck top shelf. 3-1 ‘Canes. It was his first goal of the season – his scoring drought a barrier he was very glad to break through. Coach Bill Peters acknowledged the importance of the goal:

“That was a big goal by Reggie there, and it came at a big time. It gave us a little more wiggle room when they were coming and making a push. The power play has been a little bit dry, but that was a big goal tonight.”

Getting the power play on track and getting players like Sekera productive is key to the Hurricanes’ efforts to build on Thursday night’s win.

“Young guns and Leafs”

I wrote Thursday afternoon that I like very much what was the ‘Canes’ second line against the Leafs. I refer to them as the ‘young guns.” Jeff Skinner is 22 Victor Rask is 21, and Elias Lindholm is 20. I believe that if this line can perform well, so will the team as a whole. The line did play well against the Leafs, notching 13 shots and this empty-net goal by Lindholm:

Victor Rask won 8 of 12 faceoffs, continuing his solid play in the circle. Even though the second line did not produce full-action goals, they played with a great deal of energy and focus and were aggressive in shooting the puck. Sometimes though, Jonathan Bernier was just tough:

Look for these young guys and other younger Hurricanes players to be the foundation that this team is built on by GM Ron Francis. The next test for the ‘Canes is a back to back set this weekend with the New York Rangers. The Toronto Maple Leafs will be at home against the Philadelphia Flyers.

It was a huge win for the Hurricanes Thursday night. They seem to have had the Leaf’s number for a while now, going 19-7-1 in the past 27 meetings. Can Carolina build on a win against what was a red-hot team like the Leafs? If they play like they did Thursday night, the answer will be a resounding “yes.”