The game got off to a quick start on the wrong foot. Martin St. Louis made a shot from below the right circle which Cam Ward blockered aside. Unfortunately, it caromed off defenseman Glen Wesley and into the net. This came just 0:23 into the game. St. Louis' 13th goal of the season was assisted by Brad Richards and Shane O'Brien.
A few moments later, Wesley had a chance to redeem himself with a rebound chance into an empty net, but he had to lift the shot to get over a defenseman's stick, and his attempt clanged off the right post.
Andrew Ladd, who has really stepped up his game since returning from his "conditioning stint", scored his second goal in as many games to level the score at one. He outworked to Bolts skaters behind Karri Ramo's net, then worked the puck around to Matt Cullen on the right side. His shot was blocked by Ramo, but Ladd was there on the doorstep to pounce on the rebound and shove it in the net. Time of the goal was 18:04 of the first. Initially, the lone assist went to Matt Cullen. During the first intermission, there was a scoring change, giving a secondary assist to Brandon Nolan.
Nolan looked comfortable and confident out there, and just missed on a golden scoring opportunity in the second frame. I give him high marks for tallying an assist in his first NHL game, ending with a +1.
There were no penalties for either team in the first.
In a span of two and a half minutes in the second period, four penalties were called. Two per side. Tampa had one minute of five-on-three, which was killed off nicely by the Canes. At the tail end of the ensuing power play, a Bolts penalty nullified the man advantage. Carolina couldn't do anything on their end of the power play.
With about a minute left in the second, the Bolts thought they had taken the lead on a Mathieu Darche goal. After some review, the goal was disallowed because it went in off a skate after a distinct kicking motion propelled it in.
The second period ended 1-1. Both goaltenders were seeing plenty of action, and both were playing well.
Ray Whitney gave the Canes the lead at 9:31 of the third with a delayed penalty in hand. Whitney came off the bench to be the sixth attacker, accepted a gorgeous pass in the left circle and wristed it high on the Finnish rookie. Cory Stillman and Frantisek Kaberle assisted on what would prove to be the game-winning goal.
The Wizard notched his second goal of the night and his 18th of the season at 19:00 of the third with an empty net. Scott Walker made a steal at center ice and chucked it ahead to Whitney for the easy goal.
Remembering what they were able to do on Tuesday against the Leafs, the Canes knew that the game was far from over. They had to fight to the final bell.
The Bolts were able to get some chances, but nothing serious. In the closing seconds, Ray Whitney had an opportunity for the natural hat trick. He had the puck at the right point, but instead of trying the shot from there, he passed it ahead to Eric Staal for the sure thing, which he tucked in at 19:56. Whitney and Bret Hedican got the assists.
Carolina played very well as a team. Their forechecking was good, their backpressure was excellent, the third line did a spectacular job. Cam Ward knocked the rust off and had a spectacular game after watching Johnny Crackers get three consecutive starts.
The "official" three stars went to
The RBH three stars:
THIRD STAR Andrew Ladd, CAR -- 1 goal, 8 hits
SECOND STAR Cam Ward, CAR -- 29 saves, win
FIRST STAR Ray Whitney, CAR -- 2 goals, 1 assist, GWG
Carolina will be off until Boxing Day, when they'll play the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Marc Staal will probably catch a ride on the Hurricanes charter, because he and the rest of the Staal family are spending Christmas at Eric's house in Cary.