On Sunday, Ken from Japers' Rink asked me to give a snippet about why the Hurricanes would win this game. My terse (and cheesy) response was "Carolina has been putting the POW! in "Power play". I had no idea how foretelling that would be.
At 4:23 of the first, on the Hurricanes first shot of the game, Cory Stillman pounded in a power play goal from the bottom of the right circle. Milan Jurcina had been called for holding. Rod Brind'Amour won the ensuing offensive zone faceoff to Ray Whitney, who passed it back to Brindy in the left circle. The Captain centered it to Stillman, who slammed it in. The Canes needed just four seconds of the man-advantage to get the only goal they would need on the night. This was the fourth time in the last six games that the Caps have allowed a goal on the opponent's first shot.
Alex Ovechkin was penalized for boarding at 6:56, and again the Hurricanes would need very little time to score. Cory Stillman scored his second goal of the night at 7:14 on an odd-man rush. There was a series of nice passes, but this one was all Stillman. He sliced and diced his way through the white-sweatered Caps the way Barry Sanders used to run through an entire defense. He ended up one-on-one with Kolzig, and he waited till the last second to pull it from the backhand to the forehand. This move ruined the German netminder, and Stillman tucked it into the cage. Officially, it was Stillman on the power play from Whitney and Matt Cullen at 7:14. This time, they needed 18 seconds of the power play.
A few minutes later, Stillman finished off the natural hat trick, and some lucky fan won a lawn tractor. Erik Cole and Stillman came in the Washington zone with just one defender back. Some perfect passing, and Stillman easily scored from the bottom of the right circle. Erik Cole and Eric Staal had the even strength helpers. According to the Caps announcers, this was Stillman's first hat trick since January 5, 2002. Back then he was playing for the Blues, and they beat the Stars 5-2 that night. Stillman had three goals and an assist. Our pal Doug Weight had four assists.
The pace slowed down considerably after this, but the Canes got the ball rolling again late in the second during a long power play. Donald Brashear was sent off for boarding Dennis Seidenberg. Initially, it was a two minute minor, but when it was discovered that Seids was cut, it became a major plus a game misconduct. Frankly, I didn't think it was that bad, and I don't like the rule that the offending player is ejected simply because blood was drawn. It was definitely boarding, but I don't think there was intent to injure. We'll never be able to get inside the players heads, but I just don't think that the existence (or lack thereof) of blood should be a determining factor in the issuance of major penalties. For the record, I feel the same way about the double-minor high sticking rule. I think they should be called if it appears to be deliberate.
Eric Staal tipped in Matt Cullen shot from the top of the crease. Officially, Eric Staal from Matt Cullen and Viva, on the power play at 16:07. It was Staal's 10th goal and the 13th assist for each guy. Since it was a major penalty power play, the Canes stayed put on the power play. In fact, they drew another penalty when Kolzig tackled Viva, awarding the Canes a brief five-on-three. Nothing came of that.
At 2:01 of the third, Eric Staal scored his second of the night on a crazy bounce. A heavy shot came from the left circle, and Staal was there for the rebound out front. His initial effort was knocked aside by Kolzig, but Staal batted the loose puck out of midair into the net. That would end Kolzig's night. Officially, it was Staal from Stillman and Timmmmmmaayyyy Gleason. After a quick review to make sure Staal's stick wasn't high, the goal was allowed to stand.
For the entire game, the Caps announcers had been fellating their prom date Cam Ward so shamelessly that I wondered if I was actually watching the Canes broadcasters. They kept calling him "The Warden". (make no mistake: this is NOT his nickname). It got so ugly at one point, they went out of their way to avoid jinxing Ward's shutout. It's widely known that you don't say the word "shutout" when a goalie (or pitcher) has one going. It'll jinx it. At some point, around the 4:00 mark of the third, the Caps announcer said:
"The only issue in doubt concerns Mr. Ward. There is, however, a lot of regulation time left."
The game ended like that. 5-0. Cam Ward was challenged several times in the first 90 seconds, but not much after that. He faced 35 shots, and earned his third career regular season shutout. All three have been against Washington.
The "official" three stars and the RBH three stars are identical. That's not much of a surprise. It's a no-brainer.
THIRD STAR Eric Staal, CAR --- 2 goals, 1 assist
SECOND STAR Cam Ward, CAR --- 35 saves, shutout win
FIRST STAR Cory Stillman, CAR --- 3 goals (natural hat trick), 1 assist.
The Hurricanes converted three of seven power play chances, including brutal efficiency on the first two.
Carolina will stay at home and take on the Bolts on Thursday.
Bizarre stat of the night: of the five "early" games, four were shutouts. The other shutout victors: Dany Sabourin and the Penguins (5-0 over the Devils); Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers (2-0 over the Flyers); Cristobal Huet and the Habs (2-0 over the Sabres).
Florida also won in regulation, meaning that Carolina's lead in the SE Division remains seven points.