Tlusty's injury-plagued past and Skinner's recent concussion felt like distant memories Saturday night, as both players made strong individual plays to overcome a 1-0 deficit and beat the Los Angeles Kings, 2-1.
Tlusty, chosen 13th overall by Toronto in the 2006 NHL draft, has struggled to establish himself as skill player in parts of five NHL seasons. In 2010-11, his season was interrupted by an early knee surgery and later, a shoulder injury. But when he tied the game 1-1 late in the second period Saturday night, his skill was on full display. He blocked Alec Martinez's shot, then outraced Martinez and Matt Greene the length of the ice before sending a wrister past Los Angeles goaltender Jonathan Bernier.
"The whole season I've been healthy. That's the biggest thing for myself," said Tlusty, who established a career high with 11 goals. "It's a really good mind set. I'm just trying to show what I can do when I'm healthy."
Tlusty has been a mainstay on Carolina's top line for the past month, playing with Eric Staal and Tuomo Ruutu. With 20 points in 54 games, he is giving the team a needed lift.
"He's really picked his game up over the last 10 games or so," said Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller. "He's been benefitting from playing on that line, but he's been making a lot of things tick as well. He's been really solid two ways out there. He's been good with that line and he deserves to be in there."
Skinner, last season's Calder Trophy winner, has had his own adversity to overcome. After missing 16 games with a concussion suffered in December, he scored his third goal in eight games since his return to give the Hurricanes the go-ahead goal and eventual game winner.
Like Tlusty's goal, the score came from a strong individual effort. Early in the third period, Skinner out-worked Rob Scuderi and Anze Kopitar in the corner, sending the puck to Drayson Bowman. After Bowman set up Jussi Jokinen for a shot, Skinner snuck free to knock in the rebound.
"On that goal, you chip the puck to Bowman, then you find some space," said Skinner. "It's tough to beat a guy one on one. It was a good job by our line, getting all three guys involved in the play. When games are like that — you're grinding and they're shutting you down — you need a play where all three guys are involved."
Skinner has found his form relatively quickly coming back from the concussion. Playing at his peak, however, did not happen overnight.
"Besides your game legs, it's the timing of little plays around the net," said Skinner, who has 29 points in 38 games. "You have to try and simulate that chaos and body contact."
Early in the game, there wasn't enough chaos for the Hurricanes to feel involved. Los Angeles came out strong, despite traveling last night after a 1-0 loss in St. Louis. The Kings scored on their first power-play opportunity, as Justin Williams found Kopitar in the high slot for one-timer that beat Cam Ward.
Carolina (20-25-9) has relied on the hot hand of Ward since early January. Coming off a 47-save, 3-0 win in Boston on Thursday night, Ward continued his best stretch of the season. In his last 12 starts, he has allowed just 18 goals while going 7-3-2. Most of his 24 saves against Los Angeles were of the garden variety, but he kept the Hurricanes in the game with a one-goal deficit through most of two periods.
"Ward did a great job in the first period just getting us out of there down one," said Skinner. "Then we started picking it up in the second period and getting the forecheck going."
The Kings dominated the first period, winning most of the puck battles and limiting Carolina to four shots on goal despite two Hurricanes power plays. But the Los Angeles attack began to flag in the second period.
"It's not rocket science. We played last night and got here at two in the morning," said Kings coach Darryl Sutter. "(The Hurricanes) were pushing a little more because they had more. It's not that we backed off. We were still playing really hard."
The Kings (25-18-10) held on to seventh place in the Western Conference with 60 points. They will play the third game of their six-game road trip Tuesday in Tampa Bay.
With their second straight win, the Hurricanes (20-25-9) moved out of last place in the Eastern Conference, two points ahead of slumping Montreal.
"It does look nicer when you look at the standings," Muller said. "But the key is the way we've been playing. The nice thing now is we're finding ways to win in these tight games. A month ago, who knows if we get points out of these games? We just want to focus on us, and if we can keep climbing, that's what we're after."
1 - 0 LAK
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 CAR
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