Not all losses are the same, figuratively and literally.

Cam Ward was strong in regulation and overtime, but gave up the shootout winner in a 2-1 loss in Dallas.
  • File photo by Rob Rowe
  • Cam Ward was strong in regulation and overtime, but gave up the shootout winner in a 2-1 loss in Dallas.

When the Dallas Stars visited the RBC Center in late November, they handled the Carolina Hurricanes with ease in a 4-1 win. Last night’s rematch in Dallas produced a similar result — a 2-1 shootout victory for the Stars — but the Hurricanes came away with more than just the consolation point in the standings. They found a missing component to their game.

These Canes were more physical, to a man. Their jaws were set. They knocked opponents down. Carolina players emerged from corner scrums with the puck, and won exactly half of the faceoffs. If their offensive game never found much flow, they at least showed some fortitude in the neutral zone, forcing the Stars to play a perimeter game.

James Neal opened the scoring midway through the opening period, finding a quiet spot on the ice that afforded him enough time to wait for Cam Ward to go down before lifting a shot into a corner of the net. Other than that brain freeze by Joni Pitkanen, who glanced at Neal and then skated across the crease to double-team another forward, the Canes defense gave Ward clean looks at the puck.

Carolina’s fourth line evened the score in the second with a nice display of teamwork that started deep in their own zone. Joe Corvo stole a puck along the boards and tossed it to a curling Ryan Carter, who worked it further to Troy Bodie. Bodie took it into the corner, threw it past Carter, who drew two defenders to him, to Jiri Tlusty, who one-timed it past backup goaltender Andrew Raycroft.

Both Raycroft and Ward gloved nice chances in a scoreless third. Carolina’s trio of shootout attempts — including an underwhelming effort by former Star Jussi Jokinen, who has not found his shootout mojo this season — failed to find the mark. But Brad Richards capped a series of head fakes by chipping the puck over Ward for the winner.

Although Carolina has lost three of the four games they’ve played on a five-game Western Conference swing that concludes tonight in St. Louis, the experience they’ve gained can be applied to a pair of key divisional road games mid-week in Miami and Atlanta. The up-tempo, checking style of hockey that western teams deploy — and that Carolina summoned last night — will play well against the Panthers and Thrashers.