Sunday, January 30, 2011

2011 All-Star Game: Team Lidstrom 11, Team Staal 10

By Brian LeBlanc - Puck Drops
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Thirteen-plus years after the franchise moved to North Carolina, ten years after a local radio DJ spent four days on the roof of the arena to bring the event to town, and nine months after NHL commissioner Gary Bettman stood on stage before the team's season finale to announce it, the NHL's best have come to the RBC Center for the 58th NHL All-Star Game.

Just typing those words is a little surreal.

It's been a long road to this point, but it looks like the wait was worth it.  All weekend, national media, players, team staff and fans have all been raving about the weekend, from the opening of the Fan Fair at the downtown convention center on Friday afternoon all the way through the tailgating (in no short supply, not to mention the beautiful weather) going on in the arena parking lot for the last two days - some of it nonstop.

They bill this as a celebration of hockey, but it's been more a celebration of Raleigh as a hockey market.  To put it in religious terms, if the '02 Final was the Canes' baptism, the '06 Final was first Communion, and the 2011 All-Star Game is Confirmation - for the team, for the decision to move here in 1997, and for the market as a whole.

Last night's Super Skills competition, won by the such-as-it-is home team, Team Staal, was a great marketing tool for the league.  It was a record-setting night, as evidenced by Zdeno Chara's 105.9 mph blast in the Hardest Shot competition, and it was a coming out party for the Canes' young superstar, Justin, Jeff Skinner, whose jersey Canadiens rookie P.K. Subban donned in the breakaway competition and immediately earned one of the loudest ovations of the night.

Today, things get down to business.  Expect lots of scoring, very little backchecking and goaltenders under siege for the better part of three hours.  At the end of the night, expect at least one team to put up numbers normally only accumulated in video games (the last All-Star Game ended 12-11, in overtime).

And expect a lot of memories, as a long-delayed promise finally comes to pass and the Hurricanes and their fans show why this market is never questioned as an NHL market anymore.

Pregame: I know there's not supposed to be cheering or emotions or anything in the press box. Too bad. For anyone who's been here for a long time, what just happened was indicative of what I meant by this market never being questioned.  A short skit at center ice with some local youth hockey players involved the players picking sticks up off the ice to form their pickup teams.  And when the kids picked up the sticks of Hurricanes legends Rod Brind'Amour and Ron Francis, who skated out to center ice, the roof of the building blew off in a way I haven't seen since the day the Canes won the Stanley Cup.  Not embarrassed to admit it gave me goosebumps.

1st Intermission: OK, so live blogging just isn't going to work today.  A little too fast-paced for that, but we'll recap after each period.  The teams are tied at 4 after one, after Team Staal jumped out to a quick lead with four goals in the first six minutes.  Team Lidstrom battled back, beating Cam Ward for four goals of their own after the midway point of the period.  Jeff Skinner spent the first period on a line with Patrik Elias and Paul Stastny, and while both 26's got on the board Skinner was held scoreless and, in fact, took the least amount of ice time (3:36) of anyone on either team.  In case you had forgotten, given all the hoopla surrounding him, Skinner is still a rookie - something that hasn't exactly escaped the attention of Joel Quenneville.

2nd Intermission: Just like the first period, Team Staal jumped out to an early multi-goal lead, then Team Lidstrom fought back and actually took the lead for the first time in the game, heading to the intermission up 7-6.  The goalies, especially Team Lidstrom goalie Jonas Hiller, stood on their head for long stretches (at least, by the standards of the All-Star Game) and Hiller denied Jeff Skinner on a breakaway, thereby instantly making him public enemy number one.  Also of interest: Alex Ovechkin refuses to shoot the puck for some strange reason.  Not sure why, but it's been noticed by just about everyone in the press box.  Also, Jeff Skinner has actually taken more ice time than some other players after playing what seemed like half of the second period.  Whoever sets him up for a goal will have 18,000 new best friends.

Postgame: Team Lidstrom's lead held up through the third period, and they won 11-10 despite two third-period goals from hometown hero Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner's earning an assist on a Kris Letang goal, drawing a loud cheer from the partisan crowd.  The Colorado Avalanche's Matt Duchene earned the first penalty shot in NHL history, when Alex Ovechkin threw his stick at Duchene to thwart a breakaway (for the record, Duchene didn't convert).  Patrick Sharp of the Chicago Blackhawks earned MVP honors with a three-point night.

But the story of the last two days isn't what happened in the three hours on the ice Sunday afternoon.  It's everything that went on before the game, and anyone who questions Raleigh as a hockey market after this weekend deserves the same confused look as those who disparage the likes of San Jose or Washington.  There's plenty of things that the NHL did wrong in the mid-'90s.  Moving a team to North Carolina, it can now be said without question, was not one of them.

Click for postgame audio from Alex Ovechkin, Marc Staal, a press conference with Eric Staal, Cam Ward and Jeff Skinner, and MVP Patrick Sharp.

We'll be back in a more normal atmosphere on Tuesday, when the Canes take to the ice to face the Boston Bruins.  In all likelihood, Zdeno Chara will go from being one of the surprising fan favorites of this weekend back to being a target of catcalls.  After this weekend, though, it'll almost be refreshing to hear.

I'm going to bed now.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Game 47: Hurricanes 4, Rangers 1

By Brian LeBlanc - Puck Drops
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Not much time to get a preview (actually, none, as a matter of fact), so let's get right into the action...

:45 1st: Didn't take long for the first good save by All-Star Henrik Lundqvist.  Jussi Jokinen had the puck on his stick just outside the crease, and Lundqvist was out of position thanks to a rebound, but Jokinen's shot was somehow saved by Dan Girardi right on the goal line in the only spot Girardi's stick could have possibly swept it away.  Bad luck for the Canes, who have controlled play early after an icing call just a few seconds into the game.

5:39 1st: Canes lead 1-0; LaRose 10 (Skinner, Ruutu) Well, that was a bizarre play to give the Canes the lead.  A shot from the top of the far circle by Jeff Skinner was stopped by Lundqvist, who kicked out a rebound to Chad LaRose in the low slot.  LaRose's rebound chance just barely trickled through Lundqvist's pads and looked to be headed into the net until Sean Avery swept in to save the day by swiping the puck off the goal line (yes, again).  Unfortunately for Avery and the Rangers, the sweep off the goal line banked off Lundqvist and right back into the net, giving the Canes the lead.

13:20 1st: To say this game has been wide open is somewhat of an understatement. Cam Ward has been busy stopping three breakaways in the first 13 minutes, the latest to Mats Zuccarello.  He's been sharp, but his defensemen have helped him out considerably by deflecting two of the breakaway shots over the net and out of the rink.

14:43 1st: Canes go up 2-0; Jokinen 12 (Corvo, Ruutu) (pp) Continuing the shoot-at-everything mantra that distinguished Tuesday's game against Boston, a Corvo slapper from the point on the first power play of the night was perfectly placed for Jussi Jokinen to just barely graze the puck and change its direction just enough to put it past Lundqvist and give the Canes a 2-0 lead.

16:33 1st: It's not obvious watching them play, because they've put plenty of pressure on Ward, but the Rangers are missing some key cogs, including leading scorer Brandon Dubinsky in tonight's game.  That said, give them credit: if not for some sharp saves by Ward and (especially) some solid defensive play in front of the Canes' net, this game could easily be tied right now.

End 1st: A solid period for the Canes, especially given the fact that the Rangers played last night and they needed to take advantage of what could be some heavy legs on the other bench.  The Rangers have been up to the task, but so has Cam Ward, and the Canes are in great position after twenty minutes.  Shots are 16-11 Carolina.

1:10 2nd: The Rangers come out with some jump, and nearly get on the board as Matt Gilroy fires a shot that barely goes over the crossbar.  Great start for New York, which badly needs to get on the board early lest they risk running out of gas the way the Canes did in the third period on Tuesday night.

5:41 2nd: Canes lead 3-0; Sutter (Samsonov) And just like that, the Rangers are in a three-goal hole.  Brandon Sutter continued the breakaway parade to the north-end goal with a perfect pass from Sergei Samsonov that he deked and just barely backhanded past Lundqvist with maybe an inch of space between Lundqvist's right skate and the post.  Perfectly placed, and it snaps a 16-game goal-less streak for Sutter.

10:55 2nd: The Canes nearly made it 4-0 on a 2-on-0 way down low.  Too low, as Sergei Samsonov was too close to the goal line to have a good angle to convert Erik Cole's pass.  Could easily be a four-goal lead now.

14:45 2nd: Two fights in nine seconds, first a split decision between Brandon Prust and Jay Harrison, then a clear decision for Kris Newbury over Ryan Carter.  Says here the Rangers are a bit upset with how this game has gone.

15:43 2nd: Cam Ward robs Chad Kolarik from point-blank.  Not going to say it,  but I'll just say that Ward has been playing quite well.

End 2nd: A ridiculous shift that lasted about a minute in the Rangers zone didn't result in anything, but it did earn a standing ovation from the crowd as the Ruutu line managed to knock the sticks out from two Rangers players deep in the defensive zone.  If the Rangers wanted to change the momentum with the two fights, it doesn't look like it worked too well.  Shots are 28-25 Hurricanes overall, and the Rangers led 14-12 in the period.

6:00 3rd: A couple of huge saves, one at each end, keeps it 3-0.  First Ward stoned Wojtek Wolski from close range while the Rangers were on their second power play of the night, then a few seconds later Erik Cole nearly hit Erik Staal on a shorthanded 2-on-1 that just barely handcuffed Staal enough that he couldn't get a clean shot off.  The Rangers, like they did in the second period, have come out flying to start the 3rd, but Ward has shut them down.

11:40 3rd: Rangers break the shutout, Canes lead 3-1; Prust 6 (Kolarik, McDonagh) Admit it - you had the seven-letter word in your head too.  Ward had the look of a guy going for a goose-egg tonight, but Brandon Prust put an end to hopes of a shutout by knuckling a puck over Ward's shoulder on a rebound.  Not much Ward could have done there, except covered the rebound, but in his defense the guy has made 35 saves tonight.

15:51 3rd: Canes back up by 3; Skinner 17 (LaRose) Not much to say here other than Chad LaRose is having a great night.  He made a great play coming out of the neutral zone, going behind the net and centering to Jeff Skinner at the top of the crease to restore their three-goal lead.

End 3rd: The performance resembled Tuesday's in how the Canes came out ready to play, and fortunately for the Canes the result was completely different.  Cam Ward and Paul Maurice both talked about how they knew that another strong effort like Tuesday's, coming against a team with a ton of injuries and facing the second half of a back-to-back, would likely lead to good things, and indeed it did.

Interestingly, the Canes are now 12-2 when Jeff Skinner scores a goal, and have at least a point in every game (6-0-1) when Brandon Sutter scores.

Late in the game, Erik Cole got fed up with Sean Avery after a two-handed slash to the back of Cole's leg, and they earned misconduct penalties.  Chad LaRose also mouthed off at Avery a few times, but when asked about it he politely deferred, saying "that's hockey".  I guess that's one way to put it.

Click for audio from Brandon Sutter, Chad LaRose and Cam WardPaul Maurice's press conference is attached.

The Canes head to Pittsburgh to face the Penguins on Saturday night, then they're back here for a Monday tilt with the Toronto Maple Leafs.  The Live Blog has other obligations on Monday night, so we'll miss the start but we'll be here for the finish and we'll take you home with locker room audio.  Hope you'll join us.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Game 46: Bruins 3, Hurricanes 2

By Brian LeBlanc - Puck Drops
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Yesterday afternoon in Boston, the Hurricanes were manhandled, losing 7-0 to the Bruins while generally looking lackadaisical in all aspects of the game.  Fortunately for the Canes, they don't have to wait long to exact some revenge.

The two teams meet again tonight, this time at the RBC Center, and the Canes know how important a focused effort is to gain a split in this home-and-home series.  Cam Ward will be back in net tonight after being pulled in the first period yesterday afternoon, and he'll look to bounce back after a rough few minutes in Boston.  Newly named All-Star captain Eric Staal will see plenty of Zdeno Chara, the hulking Bruins defenseman who scored his first career hat trick on Monday, and for the Canes to be successful they need Staal to lead the charge to dent Bruins goalie Tim Thomas.

Jiri Tlusty was activated off injured reserve yesterday, but he will not play again tonight.  As a result, the Canes will have no lineup changes, although where the individual players fit in on the forward lines is anyone's guess.

The Canes look to earn a split tonight, and we're minutes away from getting started....

2:04 1st: Bruins take a 1-0 lead; Savard 3 (Boychuk, Ryder) (pp) Yesterday, it took the Bruins 7 minutes to open the floodgates.  Tonight? Just more than two.  Jussi Jokinen took an ill-timed tripping penalty just :17 into the game, and Johnny Boychuk made them pay with a slap shot from the right point that was tipped by Marc Savard and flew over Cam Ward's blocker.  Ward was screened on the play, butstill...after getting run out of the building last night, this was far from the start the Hurricanes wanted.

5:49 1st: The B's are pouring it on right now.  David Krejci nearly made it 2-0 with a shot that looked like it had Ward beat on the long side but just barely trickled to the left of the net.  Shots are 6-2 Bruins, but it seems like they've had about 26.

10:00 1st: The Canes have no business with anything approaching a goal right now, but Sergei Samsonov nearly put the Canes on the board as Thomas was caught out of position for the first time all year and kicked a rebound right to Samsonov.  Unfortunately for the Canes, Thomas barely got his right leg over and kicked out the rebound just in time.

13:10 1st: Business has started to pick up.  Sergei Samsonov had his second glorious scoring chance in a span of three minutes denied by Thomas, this time with a real quick kick save on a play where he wasn't even sure a shot was coming from.  A few seconds later, Jamie McBain (!) leveled Michael Ryder with a clean shoulder check at the blue line.

18:39 1st: Canes tie it at 1; Jokinen 11 (Staal, Corvo) (pp) I was just getting ready to declare this One Of Those Nights after Eric Staal made a behind-the-goalie pass to Jussi Jokinen in front of the net, but Jokinen double-clutched and couldn't bury it.  Ten seconds later, Staal somehow got a pass through Thomas' pads and right to Jokinen at the near side of the crease, who didn't miss this time and tied it up at 1.

End 1st: The Canes had a look of jet lag in the first few minutes, no doubt helped along by the early Jokinen penalty, but they wound up outshooting the Bruins 19-11 in the period and were tilting the ice pretty sharply as the period went on.  Thomas took a badly-advised forearm at Staal on a rush at the end of the period and ended up with a roughing penalty, meaning the Canes will start the 2nd on their third power play of the night.

1:10 2nd: While on the aforementioned power play, the Canes have looked nothing like the lethargic team from yesterday afternoon.  Thomas has been flopping all over the place and the Canes have come dangerously close to converting, if only they had someone in position to pick up the loose change.

8:37 2nd: Thomas is, shall we say, a bit unconventional in his goaltending style, and the Canes have had him moving all over the place to the tune of a 32-14 shot advantage, meaning they've outshot the Bruins 13-3 in less than ten minutes of the period.  Maybe a little home cooking in those stats, but it doesn't belie the fact that the Canes have been skating circles around the Bruins in the offensive zone.

10:11 2nd: Some of the saves Thomas have made have been rather unreal, and others have just been plain lucky.  On a delayed penalty, Jeff Skinner was the victim of a lucky save, as Thomas quite literally did a split to kick the puck out with him way out at the top of the crease and all sorts of daylight behind him.  The Canes have done everything but score, and they'll get another chance with the power play as Johnny Boychuk heads to the box for tripping Tuomo Ruutu behind the net.

12:58 2nd: Looks like Patrick Dwyer got the message about driving to the net, and he earned a shove or two from Zdeno Chara in the process.  Still, that's the kind of grit and determination that was very conspicuously absent in yesterday's game.

19:18 2nd: Great defensive play by Eric Staal, tying up what would have been a sure goal from Shawn Thornton by knocking his stick off balance.  Since the Bruins went on a power play at 16:17 thanks to a Patrick Dwyer delay of game penalty, the B's have slowly started to take the game back from the Carolina onslaught.

End 2nd: Shots in the second were 19-9 Canes, who led overall 38-20.  However, the Dwyer penalty seemed to swing momentum back a bit toward Boston, and Thomas has stood on his head, so this game is far from over despite the huge shot discrepancy.

2:40 3rd: The Bruins came out of the locker room with all sorts of scoring chances, and it's obvious they've been told to shoot early and often.  Ward has held his ground, and the Canes nearly got a goal out of a Thomas fumble at the other end.  Say this for the B's defense - they haven't been called upon too much, but they've been there on the rare occasion that Thomas has needed some assistance tonight.

3:55 3rd: Bruins take a 2-1 lead; Marchand 10 (Chara, Recchi) And just like that, Thomas' heroics look like they might mean something.  A point shot from Zdeno Chara made it through to Ward and he made the save, but Brad Marchand was parked at the top of the crease and shoveled the puck home to give the Bruins their second lead of the night.

7:30 3rd: When the Bruins get a lead, it's amazing to see them clog up the neutral zone.  Every time the Canes regroup in their own zone, the B's park all five men in the neutral zone and make it impossible for anything to get through.  The Canes are trying to beat it by dumping the puck in, but it's largely a futile exercise.

9:19 3rd: Canes tie it at 2; LaRose 9 (Ruutu, Skinner) The balloon has air again.  Jeff Skinner made the play happen, with a quick backhander that was blocked by Thomas about ten feet up in the air.  By the time the puck came back down, there were five guys in front of the net battling for position, and when the puck hit the ice Tuomo Ruutu passed across the crease to Chad LaRose, who slammed it home to tie it again.

10:42 3rd: I rarely get into officiating gaffes, but one was just made that is inexcusable. Somehow, 5'10" Chad LaRose was whistled for elbowing 6'9" Zdeno Chara, and on replay LaRose's elbow was absolutely nowhere near Chara.  Chara sold it well, but c'mon.

11:59 3rd: Bruins lead 3-2; Lucic 17 (Recchi, Kampfer) (pp) You did know this was coming, right? Phantom call leads to a goal. Quelle surprise.  Recchi centers to Lucic from behind the net on a beautiful pass and the rest is history.  The crowd, needless to say, was a bit upset.

18:30 3rd: I stand corrected. LaRose did take a penalty on the play, but it was a high stick on Chara.  Still, I question if the official realized it's rather difficult for a 5'10" guy to elbow a 6'9" one.

End 3rd: A late penalty to Ruutu for tripping didn't help the Canes' extra-attacker chances, and the Bruins left with a sweep of the home-and-home after a 3-2 win.  Despite that, Paul Maurice was as upbeat as I've seen him after a loss, saying repeatedly that his guys gave everything they could and tonight it just wasn't enough.  You got the sense talking to Maurice and especially Tuomo Ruutu that if they play like this on a regular basis, they know they'll not only be fine but they'll make the playoffs.

It was a playoff atmosphere at the RBC tonight, and that energy rubbed off on the bench, which is something the Canes sorely needed.  They didn't want to be run out of their own building tonight the way they were the day before.  Mission accomplished, although it wasn't the result they ultimately wanted.

Click for audio from Eric Staal, Tuomo Ruutu and Jussi JokinenPaul Maurice's press conference is attached.

Back at it Thursday night when the New York Rangers come to town and the Canes look to build on tonight's performance.  Despite the loss, there's a bunch there to build on, and we'll see how successful they are in doing so Thursday night.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Game 44: Hurricanes 6, Lightning 4

By Brian LeBlanc - Puck Drops
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Two nights ago in Buffalo, the Hurricanes' eight-game point streak came to an end in a sloppy 4-3 loss to the Sabres.  Tonight, they look to start a new streak with the Tampa Bay Lightning in town.  The Lightning, for their part, lost a wild game 5-2 to the New Jersey Devils last night, their second straight loss to the team in the Eastern Conference basement.  Needless to say, they'll be a fired-up bunch tonight.

Since the Canes and Lightning met last, a 5-1 Lightning win on December 21, the Lightning have significantly upgraded their goaltending by adding the ageless Dwayne Roloson, who will be in net tonight, from the New York Islanders.  The Lightning have made a statement that they're a team to be reckoned with, jumping out to a two-point lead over the Washington Capitals in the Southeast Division while surprising nearly everyone along the way.

Just as surprising is the performance of the Hurricanes, facing a murderous first-half schedule yet still in sniffing distance of a playoff spot.  The Canes made one roster move since Thursday's game, sending Zac Dalpe back to Charlotte and inserting Sergei Samsonov into the lineup after a healthy scratch on Thursday night.  Cam Ward will be back in net tonight, as he will likely be in each game up through the All-Star break in two weeks.

We'll be otherwise occupied for most of tonight, so the blog entries might be a bit lighter than usual.  However, you can always head to Twitter ( for the latest and greatest...

End 1st: The Lightning had most of the solid play for long stretches of the first period, but somehow the Canes go to the locker room tied at 2 and if it wasn't for a bad defensive play by Joe Corvo they'd be in the lead.  The Lightning opened the scoring with a Steven Stamkos goal 1:44 into the game, where he got loose behind the Canes defense and fired a shot through Ward's five-hole to put the Lightning on top.  However, three minutes later Chad LaRose left the penalty box and earned a breakaway from the blue line in, beating Roloson with a backhand roofer.

The Canes got some good chances immediately after the LaRose goal, but slowly the Lightning started taking play back to the Canes' end of the ice.  Cam Ward was sharp, and at one point the Canes were being outshot 12-3 while generally being outskated all over their offensive zone.  They were also rather undisciplined, taking three penalties including a rather questionable charging penalty to Zach Boychuk that really earned the ire of the home crowd.

With 2:37 to go in the period, Jeff Skinner took advantage of an open net on a broken play for his 16th of the year to put the Canes in front and give them the chance to take a completely improbable lead into the locker room.  However, with :23 left in the period Vincent Lecavalier established some separation behind Corvo and tipped a pass home from Martin St. Louis to tie it again at 2 heading to the locker room.

End 2nd: For a team that was outshot 13-5 in the first period, the Canes certainly turned things around in the second, piling 19 shots en route to taking a 5-3 lead after two.  It started ominously for Carolina with a goal early in the period by Simon Gagne, who beat Ward on a broken play only 1:02 into the period.

After that, though, the Canes turned on the afterburners.  It started with a Jamie McBain goal off a rebound from an Eric Staal shot, continued with a go-ahead goal from Jussi Jokinen on a 5-on-3 after the Lightning were whistled for two penalties in nine seconds, and continued with Eric Staal scoring shorthanded off a Cole setup after Roloson misplayed the puck and the Lightning bobbled the puck in their own zone.

A late LaRose tripping penalty didn't earn anything for the Lightning and they went to the locker room with a 5-3 deficit, and the Canes will have a chance to improve on their 13-0 record when leading after two periods with a solid third.

End 3rd/Postgame: The Lightning made things interesting with a Gagne breakaway goal halfway through the period, but the Canes held on for a 6-4 victory after Jussi Jokinen iced it with an empty-netter with seven seconds left.  Gagne's goal was a classic bad bounce, as the puck bounced over Jamie McBain's stick at the blue line and sprung the Lightning forward on a breakaway from the red line that he didn't miss on.  The Canes were back on their heels for a few minutes in the period, especially after Gagne's goal, but Cam Ward shut the door and kept the Lightning from getting any closer.

The Lightning pulled Roloson for the extra attacker with 1:38 to go, but a few seconds later their man advantage came to a quick end when Stamkos was called for interfering with LaRose's bid at the empty net.  Stamkos earned a holding penalty, then he received an unsportsmanlike-conduct and a 10-minute misconduct for vehemently protesting to referee Francois St.-Laurent.  The Canes took care of business the rest of the way, improving to 14-0 when leading after two periods.

Eric Staal passed Rod Brind'Amour for first place in points since the Canes' relocation, despite playing 172 fewer games than the former captain.  It was a night of milestones, as Cam Ward tied Arturs Irbe's club record of games played since relocation, while defenseman Jay Harrison played his 100th career game, a testament to how his game has considerably improved over the last few seasons.

Click for audio from Eric Staal and Jussi JokinenPaul Maurice's press conference is attached.

The Canes head to Boston for a Monday matinee with the Bruins before returning to Raleigh for the back half of the back-to-back against the Bruins on Tuesday.  We'll be back, along with a more normal live blog, Tuesday night, and hope you'll join us as well.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Game 42: Hurricanes 6, Flames 5 (SO)

By Brian LeBlanc - Puck Drops
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Dating to December 28, when Jim Rutherford made an intermission appearance in the Hurricanes locker room in Toronto to put a boot in the Canes' collective backsides, the Canes have rattled off a streak of seven straight games with at least a point.  Tonight, they look to make it eight against a team they don't see all that often, although there's a familiar face on the other bench tonight.

Anton Babchuk and Tom Kostopoulos were traded to the Calgary Flames on November 17 for Ian White and Brett Sutter, and tonight is Babchuk's and White's first time facing their former teams.  Kostopoulos, for his part, is in the building but not in uniform thanks to a six-game suspension he received for breaking the jaw of Detroit's Brad Stuart on Friday.

Jussi Jokinen returns to the Carolina lineup tonight, as Jon Matsumoto was sent back to Charlotte earlier today and the Canes have shuffled their lines accordingly.  After sitting out Sunday's game against Atlanta, Cam Ward is back in net tonight, facing Miikka Kiprusoff, who has never lost to the Hurricanes in his career; he is 4-0 with two shutouts in his admittedly limited action against Carolina.

The Canes look to make it eight straight with a point while establishing their first three-game winning streak of 2011 tonight, and we're minutes away from puck drop...

2:15 1st: The Flames have carried play for just about every second so far.  A pair of open-net scoring chances, one each for Niklas Hagman and Matt Stajan, were thwarted by some fortunate bounces as both went just wide of Cam Ward, but the Flames certainly look to be the more energetic team in the early going.

4:13 1st: Flames lead 1-0; Bouwmeester 4 (Iginla, Jokinen) Just like clockwork, a big save at one end results in a score at the other end.  It's one of those hockey truisms that always seems to hold true, and it did here to put the Flames on the board.  Kiprusoff robbed Zach Boychuk on a 2-on-1, kicking a puck out that he had no business stopping, and ten seconds later a centering pass from Jarome Iginla went off a Carolina skate in the slot and right to Jay Bouwmeester, who roofed a shot high over Ward's stick to put the Flames on the board first.

7:30 1st: Erik Cole comes cruising through the slot and Adam Pardy knocks him down, earning a tripping penalty.  I mention this only in case there are some Pardy-related puns later in the live blog.

11:46 1st: Canes tie it at 1; Ruutu 11 (LaRose, Skinner) A minute after a second power play expired, the Canes were the beneficiary of some great down-low cycling by Jeff Skinner, who found Chad LaRose alone at the top of the far circle.  LaRose let a shot go that was cleanly tipped by Tuomo Ruutu for his sixth point in the last three games.

13:06 1st: Flames back up 2-1; Iginla 18 (Tanguay, Jokinen) Might as well get used to seeing "Jokinen" in the scoring of Flames goals, given his past history against Carolina  This time, he was a bit player in a great give-and-go between Alex Tanguay along the near boards and Jarome Iginla in the low slot.  Iginla's first shot was stopped cleanly by Cam Ward, but the rebound came right back to Iginla and he didn't miss again, putting the Flames back up by one.

16:29 1st: Canes tie it again, this time at 2; Jokinen (Sutter) Welcome back to the lineup, Jussi.  He did just about everything on that goal, including a sweet bank pass to Brandon Sutter through the neutral zone to get it behind the Flames defense, then a centering pass from Sutter back to Jokinen did the rest as Jokinen tied it with a nice backhand tip as he avoided Adam Pardy's stick.  That's right, it's Pardy time to celebrate Jokinen's return.

End 1st: We're tied after 1, as the Canes really came on late after being badly outplayed to start the game.  Shots were 11-6 Flames, with most of that margin coming in the first eight minutes or so of the period.

1:27 2nd: You know how you're having a bad night with the man advantage?  You're being outshot 3-0 while on the power play, and you just iced the puck.  Ouch.

2:16 2nd: Canes lead 3-2; Cole 12 (Jokinen, Samsonov) For all the trouble the Canes are having while up a man, they're doing just fine immediately after their power plays end.  This time, it was a sweet centering pass from Jokinen behind the net to Cole in front, as he battled to establish position and tipped the puck home to give the Canes their first lead of the night.

5:37 2nd: Canes now up 4-2; Staal 21 (White, Ward) Miikka Kiprusoff's night is over after a weird bounce, but you can't deny that he's been a bit shaky with four goals on eight shots.  Eric Staal's seemingly harmless shot bounced off the stick of Flames defenseman Mark Giordano and changed directions just enough to get the puck through Kiprusoff's five-hole.  The Flames inserted Henrik Karlsson for his first career action against Carolina.

6:53 2nd: Here's an odd stat: the Canes are 0-4 and generally rather inept on the power play tonight, yet three of their four goals have come within 1:06 of the expiration of a man advantage, including the last two which were scored eight and five seconds, respectively, after the end of a power play.

14:50 2nd: Canes lead 5-2; Jokinen 8 (Sutter, Gleason) When it's your night, it's your night, and it's most certainly Jussi Jokinen's night.  His third point of the night has given the Canes a three goal lead on his second goal of the night, a double-deflection off a Gleason shot that was tipped in front by both Brandon Sutter and finally deflected upstairs by Jokinen over Karlsson's glove.  The assists were given on the ice to Gleason and Dwyer, but it looked to me like Sutter got wood on it too.

16:48 2nd: Flames back to 5-3; Hagman 9 (unassisted) And just like that, it's a game again.  Niklas Hagman was the beneficiary of a ruthless forecheck by Matt Stajan who knocked down Tuomo Ruutu and set the table for Hagman to wire a wrister high over Ward's glove to pull the Flames back within two.

End 2nd: Well, that was interesting.  The Canes outshot the Flames 11-8 in the period, but the Flames were really energized after Hagman's goal and had the Canes back on their heels right up to the end of the period.  The end of the period came at the perfect time to stem the Flames' tide.

1:31 3rd: Flames pull to one at 5-4; Glencross 10 (Hagman, Regehr) The momentum from the end of the second period has indeed carried over to the third, and Curtis Glencross (really?) has his fourth goal in as many career games against Carolina to make it a one-goal game.  Nice play by Glencross to wire a wrister from 20 feet right between Ward's glove and blocker, but really, the Canes have had no interest in playing defense tonight and it's coming back to bite them.

3:03 3rd: Ian White's skate kept the game from being tied as Olli Jokinen had a wide open net and it was only a redirection by White that deflected the puck up to bounce off the crossbar instead of into the net.  Paul Maurice called timeout to remind his troops that the game still has 17 minutes to go, in slightly saltier language than I just used.

4:52 3rd: After taking a harmless shot on Karlsson, Jeff Skinner was met behind the net by the glove of Cory Sarich, and to his credit Skinner stood up for himself and gave Sarich a facewash back.  Chad LaRose, meanwhile, came flying in from the blue line and clobbered Sarich with a right, earning himself a roughing penalty to match Sarich's.  In one man's opinion, Sarich deserved a double minor, but that's why I'm a lowly reporter.

7:39 3rd: Flames tie it at 5; Bourque 14 (Morrison, Jackman) And if you didn't see this coming, you've been watching a different game.  A broken play in front of the net ended up with the puck on Rene Bourque's stick at the top of the crease, and he backhanded it home to tie the game.

7:53 3rd: A few seconds later, Jeff Skinner leveled Curtis Glencross on what looked to the world to be a clean hit yet somehow earned a boarding penalty.  Skinner earned a round of applause when his penalty was announced.  That pretty much says it all.

15:45 3rd: There hasn't been a stoppage in nearly seven minutes.  Unbelievable action, and both teams have had good chances.

17:33 3rd: Ward gets a lucky whistle after he and the official thought he covered the puck a split second before it popped out to the near side.  Huge break for the Canes.

End 3rd: Off to OT, again.  Canes now have points in eight straight games, a season high.

2:48 OT: Rene Bourque is called for slashing Cole's stick out of his hands, the Flames' third slashing penalty tonight.  Canes have a 4-on-3.

End OT: Off to a shootout as the Canes couldn't convert and then (fittingly) after the power play ended Karlsson robbed Jokinen from point-blank.  Shots were 32-30 Flames.

Postgame: In a bit of poetic justice, Jeff Skinner scored the only goal of the shootout to lift the Canes to a 6-5 win in a wild game that left both coaches with a good bit less hair than they started the game with.  According to Paul Maurice, it's the type of game "where both coaches need showers after it's done".  But as Maurice then went on to say, the Canes learned a lot about their young star tonight, after Skinner's frustrations at repeated non-calls boiled over and he took the boarding penalty on Glencross.  Maurice admitted that he wouldn't have even minded a major penalty there given how the night had gone.

No audio tonight owing to some technical difficulties.  It was one of those nights even for equipment.

The Canes head to Buffalo on Thursday for a matchup with the Sabres, then they're right back here Saturday night when the Tampa Bay Lightning come to town, no doubt with plenty of natural-forces jokes in the house.  Hope you'll join us for the sideshow.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Puck Drops catches up with Zach Boychuk

By Brian LeBlanc - Puck Drops
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A month ago, we were in Charlotte to get a read on how the Canes' prospects were doing on what was, at the time, one of the AHL's hottest teams.  The Checkers have cooled off significantly since then, but a big factor is that both Zac Dalpe and Zach Boychuk are no longer with the team, having been called up to play with the Hurricanes and having plenty of success in doing so.

Boychuk in particular has seen a steep rise.  When he first came up, he was playing on the fourth line with Troy Bodie and Ryan Carter.  A month later, he's on a line with presumptive All-Star Eric Staal and playing upwards of 20 minutes per night against the best in the NHL.  No pressure, right?

Actually, no.  We caught up with him last night after the Canes' overtime win over Atlanta and it's obvious from talking to him that his confidence is through the roof right now.  As I told him at the end, I'm heading back to Charlotte at the end of February, and I hope for his sake I don't see him back down there.  The way he's playing, that seems pretty unlikely.

Click here for the audio of my chat with Boychuk.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Game 41: Hurricanes 4, Thrashers 3 (OT)

By Brian LeBlanc - Puck Drops
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Yes, it's been a while since we did a live blog.  It's been a long couple of weeks, to be sure, and in the meantime we missed some rather entertaining tilts.  The Canes enter today's game after beating the Florida Panthers in Sunrise for the second time this season, both games involving comebacks from two-goal deficits.

After having good luck with injuries for the first part of the season, the Canes have hit a bit of a rough patch.  Joni Pitkanen returns to the lineup this afternoon after a lower-body injury and the birth of his son yesterday, but Jussi Jokinen remains on the shelf with a lower-body concern of his own, joined today by Cam Ward who suffered a lower-body injury on Wednesday in New York.  Ward will serve as the backup this afternoon, meaning Justin Peters will get a chance to win a game against a team not named the Florida Panthers for the first time this season; he's 2-0 against the Panthers and 0-4-1 against everyone else.

The Thrashers have surprised this season and currently sit in a playoff position, following the lead of their young core, including captain and former Hurricane Andrew Ladd.  Goalie Ondrej Pavelec has been sensational more often than not, so the Canes will have some work to do if they want to leave today's game with a win.  That said, the Thrashers were destroyed 9-3 on Friday night against Toronto, so they'll have retribution on their mind this afternoon and the Canes need to be ready for the onslaught, if and when it comes along.

Will it be an afternoon delight for the Canes?  We're about to find out...

:55 1st: The first thing you notice about the Thrashers is that they crash the net with reckless abandon, and Justin Peters is going to have to be on his guard all day.  However, the Canes were the beneficiary of some too-anxious forechecking by Chris Thorburn, who earned a tripping penalty for knocking down Brandon Sutter at the top of the Carolina crease.

1:20 1st: Canes lead 1-0; Ruutu 10 (Corvo) (pp) Twenty-five seconds later, the power play cashes in on a great individual play by Joe Corvo.  He took the puck behind the Carolina net and went coast-to-coast, undressing the Atlanta defense at the blue line and earning a 2-on-0 down low that Tuomo Ruutu converted on a nice drop pass.  It's the Canes' first power-play goal in three games.

7:13 1st: The goal notwithstanding, the Thrashers have really asserted play early in the game.  They're getting two men in on the forecheck every time the puck enters the Carolina zone, and it looks like they're really targeting Joe Corvo to knock him off of his game.  So far the Canes have responded, and if they can stem the tide it will be tough for the Thrashers to keep this level of intensity through the entirety of the game.

11:38 1st: For some reason, the Canes tend to earn quite a few gifts from opposing goaltenders in their division.  This time, Pavelec handed the puck straight to Eric Staal at the top of the far circle, but the puck was on Staal's backhand and by the time he wheeled around to shoot Pavelec scrambled back to kick the puck out.

11:46 1st: Thrashers tie it at 1; Little 11 (Antropov, Enstrom) (pp) And like clockwork the Canes' missed chance bites them.  Justin Peters lost his balance and fell down while trying to play a wraparound, and Bryan Little easily deposited the loose change on the power play to tie it at 1.

End 1st: A late-period power play for the Canes didn't bear any fruit, and the teams head to the locker rooms tied at 1.  Shots were 9-8 Canes, appropriate for a very evenly-played and entertaining period.

2:00 2nd: The Thrashers have gotten much better in front of their own net since last year, evidenced by Nik Antropov (who, in the past, has been anything but a defensive specialist) successfully tying up Ruutu's stick as Ruutu tried to convert a one-time pass from Chad LaRose behind the net.  Pavelec has been good, but he's been helped significantly by solid defensive play.

3:57 2nd: Canes lead 2-1; Dalpe 3 (Dwyer, Ruutu) Goals don't get much prettier than that, even for guys who have played in the league for years and aren't in their first week of regular NHL duty.  Zac Dalpe came flying through the zone and crashed the net just in time for Patrick Dwyer to find him on a perfect pass that Dalpe had to tip out of midair and over Pavelec's shoulder to put the Canes back in front.

5:33 2nd: Canes lead 3-1; Skinner 14 (Corvo, McBain) (pp) The Canes got a break on a badly overplayed puck by Pavelec on a power play, and when he kicked the puck out it went right to Jeff Skinner, who fired a rocket slapper that Pavelec actually got a glove on but it wasn't nearly enough to stop it from hitting the top corner.

6:59 2nd: Most of the folks in the building thought Eric Staal had made it 4-1, but referee Gord Dwyer disagreed by saying that Erik Cole interfered with Dustin Byfuglien at the top of the crease, and while it won't make the fans any happier it was absolutely the correct call.  Cole knocked over Byfuglien, who was nowhere near the puck, and shoved him into the net.  That's textbook interference, even if it isn't called all that often.

7:57 2nd: Thrashers make it 3-2; Bergfors 9 (Ladd, Enstrom) (pp) And, predictably, the Thrashers make it 3-2 instead of being down 4-1 on the ensuing power play.  Niclas Bergfors wired a high wrister from the far circle that Peters had little chance of stopping.  The boos rained down from the paying customers after the goal, to the surprise of no one.

13:50 2nd: More shocking news: every potential call in the Canes' favor that isn't called is met with some anger by the crowd, and apparently by Jeff Skinner as well.  After Rich Peverley cross-checked Skinner in the slot with no call, Skinner took his aggression out on Zach Bogosian with a surprisingly solid body-check into the boards in the far corner.

End 2nd: The Canes will begin the third period on a power play after Tobias Enstrom hauled down Erik Cole late in the period.  Another solid period for both teams, with the Thrashers outshooting the Canes 12-10 in the period to take a 20-19 overall lead.

6:00 3rd: After the sometimes frenetic pace fo the first two periods, the game has really settled down to start the 3rd.  The Canes could get nothing going on their early power play and neither team has had a chance to get anything established in their offensive zone.  That's a trade the Canes will gladly take.

7:59 3rd: A wild play in front of Pavelec, with no fewer than seven players crashing the crease and Jeff Skinner doing his best to shovel the puck home, with no luck.  Given the circumstances, I'm rather surprised it didn't find its way in, because the guys in the crease looked like bowling pins trying to knock each other over.

10:42 3rd: Thrashers tie it at 3; Little 12 (Stewart, Enstrom) That Cole interference penalty is looming rather large right now, as Bryan Little sneaked behind the defense and roofed a wrister from the near circle to tie the game on his second of the day.  Nice move by Little, not so nice by the Canes' defense which couldn't keep up with Little's speed through the neutral zone.

14:15 3rd: Things have started to heat up a bit again.  Erik Cole drove the net and knocked Pavelec over, earning a no-call that had Thrashers radio man Dan Kamal in the booth behind us completely apoplectic, and for good reason.  The Canes couldn't take advantage of the good fortune, even though Pavelec had lost his stick in the play and couldn't cover the puck using only his pads.  A copule of great plays by Ron Hainsey bailed Pavelec out.

16:10 3rd: After the puck jumped Dustin Byfuglien's stick at the blue line, Zach Boychuck led out of the zone on a 2-on-1 but his attempted pass was thwarted by a perfect defensive play from Tobias Enstrom.

End 3rd: The Canes were able to kill off a Chad LaRose tripping penalty with three minutes left and had some great chances off a faceoff in the Thrashers' zone with 20 seconds left, but Pavelec stood tall and earned the Thrashers a point in the standings.

2:08 OT: Canes win 4-3; Cole 11 (White, Staal) And in a bit of poetic justice, the man who was denied a goal earlier in the game gets the game-winner in overtime.  Erik Cole certainly felt vindicated, as he was literally screaming at referee Gord Dwyer in a "How do you like me now?" combination of anger, exhiliration and swagger before being mobbed by his teammates.  Something tells me Dwyer was less than pleased with the outburst, but considering the game was over, what was he to do?

After the game, it was obvious that both Cole and Paul Maurice felt that Cole's waved-off goal should have counted, and Cole got another verbal swipe in at the officials when talking to the media.  That said, this was a big win for a team that could have easily crumpled up and pouted when denied a goal.  Instead, they've taken a point from every game in the last seven, and have pulled to within three points of 8th-place Montreal, with a game in hand.

Back at it when Anton Babchuk returns to Raleigh with the Calgary Flames on Tuesday night to face the Canes for the only time this season...