Tuesday night’s 2-1 win over the visiting Florida Panthers was a game full of happy returns for the Carolina Hurricanes: Eric Staal returned to the lineup and scored the game winning goal, Corey Stillman returned to haunt the team that traded him just five days ago while Cam Ward returned to form by making 41 saves to earn the victory.
The win gave the Canes two vital points in the Eastern Conference playoff race as the Buffalo Sabres, the team directly behind Carolina, also won tonight.
Carolina played their best hockey in the opening period and then hung on for dear life as Ward made save after save to help maintain the lead. The Canes were outshot 35-14 in the final 40 minutes but allowed just one goal.
Stillman opened the scoring at the 5:25 mark of the game off an incredible pass by Erik Cole who skated down the right side and centered the puck to Stillman from behind the goal line and as he was being tripped to the ice. Stillman outmuscled Panthers’ defenseman Jason Garrison and poked the puck between the pads of Scott Clemmensen’s to make it 1-0 Hurricanes.
With just over five minutes remaining in the first period, Staal increased the Carolina lead to 2-0 in his first game back after sitting out one contest with an upper body injury. On the power play, Stillman let a hard pass go from the right circle which Staal redirected from just beyond the left post. The power play tally was Staal’s 28th goal of the season.
Stephen Weiss got the Panthers on the board 3:58 into the second period when he poked home his own rebound from the slot off a smooth pass by David Booth.
After that, Ward shut the door. Florida managed 18 shots on goal in the third period to only five for the Hurricanes but Ward refused to allow the game-tying goal. His best two saves came with 1:20 left in the game when he stoppe a backhander by Scott Timmons from 10 feet out and then stoned the recently acquired Niclas Bergfors on a one-timer from point blank range.
“It was a very difficult game for our team to play and it looked like it,” Hurricanes Coach Paul Maurice admitted. “And we won. We’ve played games this year where we’ve played exceptionally and lost. Tonight we weren’t as good as we expected our team to be and we won.”
The Canes return to action Thursday night when they host the Buffalo. A Sabres regulation win would create a tie between the two teams in the race for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Buffalo has two games in hand.
About the Author
Written by Brad Kurtzberg
Hockey writer for more than 10 years. Has been published on Fox Sports, MSG Network, Huffington Post and Inside Hockey. Wrote the book, "Shorthanded: The Untold Story of the Seals, Hockey's Most Colorful Team" on the old California Golden Seals and is presently working on his second book.