RBC CENTER/RALEIGH – Right on the heels of the announcement that their team would be starting next season in Helsinki, Carolina’s Finnish representatives had one heckuva night at the Florida Panthers’ expense. The ‘Canes’ solid road play held steady as they weathered the storm in an up-and-down first period and then converted three times before recently returned Tuomo Ruutu added an empty netter.
New York Jets coach Rex Ryan was shown numerous times on the Jumbotron, sitting sulkily and sporting a Flyers jersey. Late in the third period, two brave Storm Squad members presented him with a ‘Canes’ third jersey. I was secretly wondering whether managed to find one that would fit his ‘dimensions” without special ordering it, but while it looked a little snug, Ryan seemed happy with his new threads.
Another sidenote that captured my interest was how quickly the ‘Canes struck Niclas Wallin from the record book. The affable, longtime ‘Canes defenseman was shipped to the playoff-bound San Jose Sharks Sunday for a second round pick under good terms. By Tuesday, his picture was off St. Baldrick’s ads (he supported the charity several years in a row) and all clips of him or promotional videos involving him were gone, at least as far as I could see. I understand the value in moving on, but…man, that’s efficiency.
It was a ho-hum first period until Tim Gleason and Gregory Campbell – the league disciplinarian’s son, go figure – dropped the gloves 6:12 in. Gleason threw Campbell around and got in a few good hooks before the fight was broken up.
Florida stood up in the first period and didn’t allow Carolina many scoring chances and even fewer good ones. Manny Legace, who is manning the nets for Cam Ward while the starter’s back injury is being evaluated (I find it hard to believe they’d be taking so many precautions if it wasn’t serious and probably season-ending) had to be solid, but not spectacular, on the other side of the night.
Steven Goertzen had his first Hurricane fight late in the first when he squared off with Bryan Allen. He got his behind handed to him. Tomas Vokoun robbed Ray Whitney when the ‘Canes winger came in on the back door. The pass was clearly going to happen, but he had to stretch out as far as he could to get over in time to meet Whitney.
On the next play, Tim Gleason, who seems to have gotten more than his fair share of facial injuries this season, was hit in the face with the puck and skated off immediately, bleeding profusely from his forehead. Right afterwards the Jumbotron flashed a screen congratulating Gleason on his addition to Team USA entitled ‘Red, White and Blue.” The fans didn’t seem to know what they should do with that one.
Gleason received 12 stitches and was back before the end of the second. ‘Meat and potatoes” indeed, Maurice.
During a Florida penalty, Jussi Jokinen was in perfect position to pick up an Eric Staal rebound and bang it into the open net. That’s his team-leading 21st goal, sixth in seven games and third in as many games.
Cory Stillman made his former team pay with a give-and-go with Stephen Weiss. The ‘Silent Assassin” and the ‘Secret Weapon” have both moved on to other teams now…perhaps now someone can come up with nicknames that don’t make it sound like we’re living in a campy James Bond spoof?
Joni Pitkanen picked his spot on an unscreened Vokoun from well out later in the second period. He fired a slapper just within the post to make the score 2-0.
After a scary stretch of Florida power play expired, Matt Cullen went in on Vokoun with penalized player Tom Kostopoulos. Cullen maneuvered around a sprawled defenseman and had Kostopolous to keep Vokoun busy, then fired a wrister five hole to make it 3-1.
With Florida defenders swarming around him, Legace absorbed the puck then got knocked over. It looked like he was using some sort of lame duck tactic to avoid the scrum developing above him, rolling around on the ice, but he didn’t get up and Pete Freisen went out to make sure he was all right. Though he’s helped the ‘Canes out of some injury-ravaged times this season, Legace has had some bad luck of his own. Pink eye, pucks to the windpipe, Panther scratch? Nope, he turned out to be fine.
In his first game back from injury, which also just so happened to be his bobblehead night, Ruutu skated in alone on an empty net with 1:20 remaining. He got his empty-netter to thunderous approval from the Hurricane faithful.
The frustrated Panthers continued the fireworks and a scrum broke out in front of Legace after the horn sounded, but it was done. The Hurricanes put together another solid effort in a stretch of good play during the new year, a bit too late to do any good.
After a quick breather, the ‘Canes will host Buffalo Thursday night. Buffalo is still smarting from a loss at the hands of an Eastern Conference bottom-dweller less than a week ago, and no doubt fans will be ready to boo their most hated rival.