By Brian LeBlanc
NCSportsTalk.com - 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...