On Thursday night, the Canes needed a six goal explosion in the third frame to beat the visiting Panthers, earn their third straight win, and close the gap between the Thrashers and themselves.
For two periods, Carolina looked a little flat. Florida was winning the battles, they were getting more shots on net, they were getting better shots on net, they were dominating puck possession. The first period ended in stalemate, but the visitors poured it on in the second frame, getting even strength goals from Jaraj Kolnik (11:59), Olli Jokinen (12:49) and Stephen Weiss (16:33). I was watching the free preview of NHL Center Ice, and I got to thinking that it had all the earmarks of a shutout. Because it was Scrabble night, I left home (as I always do) during the second intermission. Since I had pretty much given up on the game anyway, I didn't bother to DVR the remainder of the game. That was a mistake.
Cam Ward was lifted in favor of Johnny Crackers, as one of those "wake up calls". What followed was something that hasn't been done by this franchise since December 27, 1981 -- before Eric Staal, Andrew Ladd, Chad LaRose, Tim Gleason, Anton Babchuk and Cam Ward were even born. They scored six goals in the third.
Chad LaRose, who has been working his tail off lately, got the ball rolling on a crazy bounce at 1:40. Scott Walker and Andrew Hutchinson assisted. His shot from the right dot caromed off a defenseman, then over Alex Auld's shoulder for a "lucky" goal.
At 3:06, Erik Cole got a breakaway goal to make it interesting. Rod Brind'Amour took advantage of a lazy line change by the Cats and fed Cole with a cross-ice two line pass to the Panthers blue line. As Mike Van Ryn and Ruslan Salei watched, Cole exploded past them all alone to the goal, where he beat Auld on the short side. Vintage Cole. Anton Babchuk had the secondary assist.
At 8:02, Scotty Walker tied it up on a beauty wrap-around. After the Cats committed an own-zone turnover, Sharpie attempted the exact same shot from earlier, a soft wrister from the right dot. This time, it hit some bodies on the way through, and was controlled by Eric Belanger on the left side of the net. He got it to Walker, right behind the cage, and from there Walker snuck around the left post and beat Auld five hole. It was Walker's 14th goal, and Belanger and LaRose each picked up their 10th assist.
Cory Stillman scored the prettiest Carolina goal of the night at 9:35 to give the Canes the lead. To be fair, Jokinen's goal in the first period was incredible. He beat Cam Ward high on the glove side from the left dot. What made it remarkable is that Ward came out so far, cutting off the angle so much that Jokinen had to be pinpoint accurate with his shot. He was.
Anyway... About Stillman's goal at 9:35. During the power play, Carolina had four forwards plus the offensive-minded Andrew Hutchinson out there. With three guys camped out on the blue line, staying on-side, Stillman brought it in, then dropped it to Hutchinson on the right point. He faked a shot, then tapped it ahead to Stillman, who was streaking north to south through the slot. The lead pass was so perfectly placed that all Stillman had to do was flick it in from the right hash mark, beating Auld badly on the stick side. Just the way you do it in practice. Hutch had the primary assist, and Brind'Amour the second.
As if that wasn't enough, Carolina kept their foot on the gas, and they needed it. Before the PA announcement was made for Stillman's goal, Feet made it 5-3. This would turn out to be the game winning goal. Mike Commodore attempted a shot from the right point that was stopped by Auld, but the rebound went right out front to CrAdams (I guess there's no need to call him that anymore). Hands of Feet backhanded it in, and the Canes were up by a deuce. Commodore and Mike Belanger got the helpers.
To make things interesting again, Olli Jokinen scored another at 19:04 to bring the Cats back to within a goal. On the power play, Jokinen fired a rocket one-timer over Crackers' left shoulder, assisted by Josef Stumpel and Stephen Weiss.
With the goalie pulled for an extra attacker, Carolina was able to get the puck deep and pot an empty netter by Ray Whitney at 19:47, assisted by Brindy and Cole.
For that third period, anyway, they looked like the 05-06 Canes. They were aggressive, and kept their foot on the gas the whole time. Not only that, but after the goaltending change, the team responded by snapping to attention. And the offense was really spread out. Six different goal scorers. Eleven different players with offensive stats.
Since I didn't actually see the third, it's hard to assess stars, but Brind'Amour had three assists, Cole had a goal and an assist, Belanger had two assists.
Worth mentioning is that David (I'm going to lay off of the Avi thing for a while) Tanabe continued to play well. This is a pleasant surprise, but we knew that there was a good defenseman in there somewhere. We saw it before he got hurt in '02, and to have been drafted in the first round of the 1999 entry draft means a lot.
Carolina is now within four points of first place Atlanta in the Southeast, and will have a chance to narrow the gap even more. Atlanta begins a back-to-back tonight in New Jersey. Tomorrow, the Canes will host the same Thrashers in a very important game for both teams.
Puck drop will be at 7:00, and again the Canes TV network won't have it, but your free preview of Center Ice will.
5 years ago