Eric Staal was first to light the lamp, giving the Canes the lead at 7:27 of the first. It was a pretty neat play that started when Bret Hedican corralled an errant pass, kept it in the Panthers' zone, and uncorked a wrister from the blue line. Erik Cole redirected it from the high slot, and Eric Staal redirected it again from the front of the goal mouth. The goal was his 37th. Cole's assist was his 30th. Hedican's assist was his 16th.
Erik Cole added to the lead when he potted his 27th goal of the season at 3:46 of the second. The Canes came in on a three-on-two after a turnover at dead center ice. The puck was perfectly cycled from Cole to Hedican to Cory Stillman, then back to Cole, who tucked it into an empty cage. Stillman's assist was his 41st, and Hedican's was number 17.
While the Cats were on a power play, Chris Gratton picked up the change for his 14th goal of the season at 4:51 of the second. Josef Stumpel's shot from the left face off dot was stopped, but Gerber gave a big rebound and was way out of position. Stumpel got the primary assist, his 27th. Mike Van Ryn got the secondary, his 21st.
At 3:25 of the third, CrAdams scored his eighth goal of the season,and it would prove to be the game winner. Kevyn Adams, with his sixth, and Stillman with his 42nd, got the helpers. K-Ad picked up a loose puck behind the net and found Craiggers out front. He had two dudes draped all over him, and I have no idea how he even got the shot off, but it was pretty. It was really strange, and I don't know if it was intentional, but Craig's celebration looked a whole lot like K-Ad's trademarked left leg cocked, right arm starting the lawn mower move.
At 9:52, Serge Payer scored his second goal of the season to narrow the Canes lead to 3-2. It was a harmless enough looking play, as the Panthers brought the puck in with two men against Carolina's three. However, Payer made a nifty little wrap-around move and tucked it just inside the right post. Juraj Kolnik picked up his 13th assist while Van Ryn picked up his 22nd.
With a Canes power play about to elapse, Erik Cole got his second goal of the game and his 28th of the season at 15:15 with a one-timer from the point. Ray Whitney got his 31st helper and Frantisek Kaberle got his 29th.
With an empty net in the final minute, Kaberle launched one of those three-dimentional clearing passes out of the Canes zone, and there weren't enough Panthers to stop Staal from picking it up at the blue line and easily burying it in the empty net. Aaron Ward got the secondary assist, his 13th of the year. Kaberle hit the 30 mark with that assist, and it was Staal's 38th goal.
Eric Staal's point total is now 78. Erik Cole's is 58. Cory Stillman's is 57.
Both teams were 1-7 on the power play. Carolina committed six penalties in the second period, but played the entire third period without feeling shame. Two of the six in the second were for a high stick by Justin Williams. It was closely preceded by one penalty, and followed by another one half-way through the double minor. This created two consecutive five-on-three advantages which were beautifully killed by the Canes. The first was about one minute in length, and the second was for a full two minutes. They made it look easy.
On the post-game radio show, they had a guy in the room talking to Martin Gerber. He asked specifically about the penalty killing, and Gerbs gave an answer that speaks volumes about how well this team plays. The exchange went like this:
Radio guy: Talk a little bit about the penalty killing units, and how they were able to kill those two consecutive five-on-threes.
Gerber : Were there TWO of them? (pause) Oh, yeah. The short one.
See, the thing is, the guys played well enough to where they didn't make Gerber play his ass off. He didn't feel the pressure of the two back-to-back five on three situations. He didn't even notice.
I'm still not the least bit concerned about Doug Weight's lack of production so far. I know that before all the dust settles, he's going to pay huge dividends. Maybe we won't know until May or June, but I'm pretty confident that he'll silence the naysayers.
Up next, a Saturday night matchup with the last place Penguins. I'll be at work, AND the Duke-Carolina game will be on, so I won't get to see it, but I'll be DVRing the hell out of it. Maybe that'll be the game for Dougie to break out.