RALEIGH -- When Winnipeg captain Andrew Ladd scored the game winner against Carolina, it came as news to him that it was the 100th goal of his career.
"Really?" he said, wiping his face dry. "Pretty, huh?"
What the goal lacked in artistic merit, it made up for in significance, both personally and for the Jets. By registering a 3-1 win over the Hurricanes, Winnipeg (9-4-4) has posted a 4-0-1 mark in its last five games. For Ladd, he gets a milestone tally against the team that drafted him fourth in the 2004 NHL Draft -- and against his friend, Carolina goaltender Cam Ward.
"It's nice to score against Wardo," Ladd said. "I'll have to remind him of that one."
Ladd will have plenty of chances to do so, since the two players have a connection that is likely to last.
"That's actually how I met my wife," said Ladd, noting that Ward is responsible for their meeting. "(My wife) is friends with his wife. I met her at his wedding."
Scoring the game-winner goes deeper than that for Ladd. Despite contributing to Carolina's Stanley Cup victory in 2006, he was traded from Carolina to Chicago in 2007-08 after 2 1/2 seasons of struggling to reach his potential.
"It's always nice to come into this building against someone who traded you away and win the game, he said.
The Jets played a near-perfect game against Carolina (8-12-4), but they got off to a rocky start with two penalties in the first five minutes. The penalty-killing unit, which had given up just three goals in the previous 28 chances, proved equal to the task, allowing just four Carolina shots on the two minors.
"It certainly did something for me — it put a little panic into my life," joked Jets coach Claude Noel. "It's not that way you want to help your goalie out, but sometimes it gets your feet into the fire right away. I thought our penalty kill was really solid."
Winnipeg goaltender Chris Mason, making his first start in 14 games, benefitted from a strong defensive game in front of him. He finished with 20 saves, good for his second win over Carolina this season. The early shorthanded play may not have been ideal for a goaltender trying to shake off the rust, but it helped Mason get comfortable.
"It did," he said. "Obviously we don't want to kill penalties that early, but the guys let me see it, cleared rebounds and we did a great job."
After controlling play for much of the first period, Winnipeg cashed in on a 2-on-1 at 14:46 to open the scoring. Evander Kane skated the puck all the way to the left circle and fired a wrist shot past Ward. Johnny Oduya, who led the Jets with 5:13 of shorthanded ice time, earned an assist for starting the breakout in the Winnipeg zone.
The Jets continued to carry the play in the second period, but the Hurricanes tied the game at 5:17. Jiri Tlusty took a pass from Brandon Sutter along the wall and stickhandled into the slot, where he beat Mason with a quick wrister.
Winnipeg got the lead back just over a minute later on a hard-working goal by Ladd, who outmuscled Tomas Kaberle in front of the Carolina net in a one-on-one battle and poked the puck into the net at 6:25. The goal seemed emblematic of Winnipeg's game all evening.
"We're trying to play the right way," Noel said. "We have to rely on each other. We have to play as a group of 20 because we don't have any dominant players. We showed that tonight. We were good in a lot of areas."
He quickly pointed to his captain as a catalyst for the Winnipeg's recent stretch of strong play.
"It's pretty clear he wanted to win here," Noel said. "He's played here and won a Cup here. The way our team is with its work ethic is not by accident. Usually it goes through your leader. You can't say enough about what he's done with our group here."
Through two periods, the Jets dominated all phases of the game. After setting the tone with big hits in the first period, Winnipeg took away passing lanes throughout the second period, snuffing out potential scoring plays for Carolina. The Jets had a 12-4 advantage in shots in the period, extending their game margin to 26-11.
Carolina outshot Winnipeg 11-3 in the third and missed a glorious chance to tie with just under two minutes left when Kaberle pushed his shot wide with Mason on the other side of the net. The horn went off in the building and the fans came to their feet, but Mason knew the puck stayed out.
"I was thinking I should have got up a little earlier on that. I was just trying to shut down the short side," Mason said. "But I knew it didn't go in. I saw it go across the crease and hit the side of the net."
Bryan Little sealed the outcome with an empty net goal with nine seconds remaining.
For Carolina, the loss reinforced the team's fragile state. After a recent 3-9-2 stretch that put Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice's job in jeopardy, the 'Canes had rebounded with two wins and an overtime loss. The sloppy game against the Jets didn't impress the embattled coach.
"What we needed was obviously for something good to happen in the game," Maurice said. "(The Jets) played a hard, physical, strong, fast game, and we couldn't keep up to them."
Hurricanes captain Eric Staal continues to struggle -- he has just one goal in his last 18 games.
"We need to be quicker," Staal said. "Once the shot was taken by us or by them our reaction speed needs to be better and our jump needs to be better."
Carolina defenseman Tim Gleason noted that the Hurricanes' play was poor from the start.
"We knew they were ready to play," he said. "They pretty much set the tone, which you don't want to happen in your home building."