Tuomo Ruutu and Rod Brind’Amour scored in the shootout, and the Carolina Hurricanes snapped a three-game losing streak with their first SO win in over a year.
Carolina surmounted a two-goal comeback to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning, playing in its first game with interim head coach Rick Tocchet. Former coach Barry Melrose was dismissed 16 games into the season on Friday, and Tocchet – yes, the same one involved in that messy Wayne Gretzky gambling scandal a few years back – took over on a temporary basis. The Hurricanes made sure that Tocchet’s first outing as an NHL head coach was one he’d rather forget.
A lot has been made so far this season of defensemen scoring, but if they can’t perform their most important duty first, which is manning the blueline, perhaps Peter Laviolette should loosen things up a bit in the offensive zone. The Hurricanes have allowed far too many goals in over the last several games on odd-man rushes, when the defense is pinching in too far and two or more players – usually and unfortunately, the opponent’s most talented forwards – slip in and beat whoever is in net easily.
The first goal came off a three-on-one odd man rush, just as a penalty to ex-‘Cane Radim Vrbata expired. With Cam Ward banging his stick frantically on the ice, trying to tell his team that there was a man coming out of the box, the Carolina defense pushed in even further to try and score. Martin St. Louis took the puck from Vrbata with the sole defenseman back, Anton Babchuk, pinned, and sent it past Ward.
After a disputed call by the refs, in which the puck deflected off a Lightning player’s skate as he went off to his bench and bounced back into ‘Canes zone, Vincent Lecavalier sent the puck in for Tampa Bay’s second goal. The Hurricanes scrambled to get back but could not recover, and Ward was left on his own again. The play was discussed, but not reviewed. The crowd hated it, and the ‘Canes bench appeared to be less than pleased as well.
‘We had just gone to the box for too many men after a marginal call, and we didn’t say anything,” Laviolette said. ‘They’ve got too many men, its hits their player. The two illegal players should have gotten the assists because it hit both of them.”
The call was unfortunate, but beneficial, as it acted as the catalyst that finally woke the Hurricanes up from their three-game stupor.
The Lightning almost made it 3-0 when a line drive sang off the crossbar. However, Wade Brookbank – the ‘Canes tough guy who averages less than three minutes a game – was logging some good minutes and scored off a nifty spin-o-rama move in front of the net for his first goal and point of the season.
Like most elite goaltenders in this league, if Mike Smith can see it, he will probably stop it. The Hurricanes finally used this to their advantage, and 78 seconds after the Brookbank goal, Rod Brind’Amour scored his team-leading seventh goal of the season and second in two games when he deflected a Scott Walker shot to tie the game, with Ray Whitney screening Smith. Cam Ward broke up a St. Louis and Lecavalier breakout to keep the score tied going into the third period.
Overtime commenced. The first minute and a half consisted of Carolina attempting to kill of their second bench minor for too many men on the ice of the night (that doesn’t happen often) and it was nothing if not exciting. Cam Ward made some acrobatic saves, including one off another two-on-one with Lecavalier and Vrbata. The puck sat right on Mike Smith’s doorstep several times, just waiting for someone to punch it home, but the Lightning held on for the shootout, where they have been decent over the past two seasons…and the Hurricanes have been dreadful.
Instead of going with his usual tandem of Cullen, Whitney, and one more rotating forward, Laviolette opted to put in the red-hot Tuomo Ruutu and Brind’Amour, who has two goals in two games.
‘We just needed to switch it up,” Laviolette said. ‘We haven’t had any success lately, so it was good to give it a new look.”
Ruutu deked out Smith and sent it home, while Brind’Amour went with a simple wrist shot from well out. Ward stacked his pads and turned away Lecavalier’s backhand, and Jussi Jokinen hit the post. Ward is now 3-8 in career shootouts.
‘We’ve been lacking a little bit of confidence,” Brind’Amour said. ‘We just needed to win one to get a good feeling back in the locker room.”