All it took was one.
And from there, the Carolina Hurricanes just kept rolling.
After coming into the third period down 3-0 to Montreal, the Canes scored four third-period goals to force overtime and ultimately win the game, 5-4.
“The first goal was the one that was so huge,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “It didn’t matter what kind of goal it was going to be. It just showed that we weren’t going to go through the motions in the third period.”
The goal was scored on the power play after the team had seen seven other chances drift by, including an extended five-on-three advantage in the second period. Jeff Skinner was the goal scorer, his first of two power-play tallies in the game.
Andrej Sekera sent a point shot toward the net. Carey Price spit out the rebound, and Skinner corralled it. He attempted a wrap-around, but was denied by a sliding Brandon Prust. Skinner then regathered the puck, spun around in the slot and roofed one off the cross-bar and in.
“The power play got us going, not only the goal but the momentum,” Manny Malhotra said. “We had to stay to the game plan. We’ve proved that plan has worked for us.”
Thirty-seven seconds later, Skinner netted another power-play goal, his 12th goal in the month of December alone and 16th of the season.
Then it was Eric Staal in the right place at the right time to bang home a loose puck.
Then it was Zach Boychuk threading the needle with a tape-to-tape pass to Malhotra in the slot, and he finished.
All it took was one, and from there, the Hurricanes just kept rolling.
“Everything fell into place, we got some breaks and we got some goals at the right time,” Muller said. “We just went for it in the third.”
“I think that separates a lot of teams – that ability to stay the course,” Malhotra said. “There was a decision to be made. It was either jettison the whole thing and see what happens playing an individual game or believe in each other, believe that guys are going to do their job and it will pay off. We stuck with that mentality.”
The Canes then fought through Montreal tying the game 4-4 to win just their third game in overtime this season. It came off the stick of Alexander Semin who, before Dec. 23, hadn’t scored in 14 games since Oct. 24. It was a quick turnaround wrist shot that found a hole in Carey Price, who appeared impenetrable through the first 40 minutes.
“A lot of the game is mental toughness,” Skinner said. “We had been getting some chances, but we couldn’t seem to get a goal. We still had 20 minutes to play, and we have enough veteran guys in the locker room to know we had to stick with the plan.”
When the puck crossed the goal line, the crowd erupted and the goal horn blared, Semin raised his arms and looked upward, a display of simultaneous relief and exultation.
“I think that was just such an emotional game last night,” Muller said. “You could just see it in their body language afterward.”
As much was clear in the locker room after the game: this is the kind of comeback, the kind of team-effort victory that can change the tide of a season.
Of course, whether or not that will be the case remains to be seen, but it starts with the team’s upcoming two-game road trip that will take them through Washington and Long Island.
“Last night’s win doesn’t mean anything if we don’t follow it up,” Skinner said. “You can’t dwell on it, just like we wouldn’t dwell on it if it had gone the other way and we lost. We’d bounce back and try to win the next game. That’s the mindset going into tomorrow.”
“They woke up today and came back to practice with a lot of energy,” Muller said. “That’s where we talk about momentum and how it carried already into today’s practice where you see the life and energy, and now we just have to take it on the road trip.”
Ward and Nash Injured, Khudobin Back in the Picture
The Canes announced on Wednesday that Cam Ward has a lower-body injury and will not make the two-game road trip. Anton Khudobin and Justin Peters will serve as the team’s two goaltenders, with Khudobin likely getting in at least one of the next two games. Muller would not commit to a starter for Thursday’s tilt in Washington.
Forward Riley Nash left Tuesday night’s game with a lower-body injury. He did not practice on Wednesday and will likely be on the shelf for a week. It’s expected that the Hurricanes will make a corresponding roster move to fill his absence.