Last night’s two-goal rally against the New York Islanders was the Hurricanes’ second in their last three games. Although they ultimately lost in a shootout, they also came back from a similar predicament last Saturday in Washington.
There are two common themes in each of those comebacks. One is that they both involved a goal in the dying seconds of the second period that gave the Hurricanes momentum heading into the final frame.
“It’s about coming into the room and feeling good about where you’re at,” said Coach Paul Maurice. “It gives you a chance to come into the room after a period where you haven’t played very well and take a positive out of it.”
The other continuous thread is Erik Cole, who served as the primary playmaker on both of those goals by setting up Ray Whitney with a great pass in Washington and driving hard to the net last night against the Islanders, leading to Tuomo Ruutu’s tap-in.
Cole’s play last night was especially impressive, and with the line of Matt Cullen, Chad LaRose and Ray Whitney grabbing the spotlight in the third period, it probably didn’t get the credit it deserved. After New York scored their fourth goal of the second, Cole, like the rest of the team, had every reason to hang his head and simply get out of that disastrous 20 minutes without causing any further damage.
Instead, as he was famous for in his previous stint as a Hurricane, he lowered his head, charged to the net without regard to what punishment he might take and made something happen right off the ensuing faceoff, clawing one back for Carolina only nine seconds after the Islanders made it 4-2.
“We got a bit of a lucky bounce off the defenseman’s stick there after they won the faceoff and we took advantage of the opportunity,” said Cole. “I think sometimes that helps change the momentum of games. When a team scores they can maybe let up a little bit and take a deep breath, so that’s why the shifts after a goal is scored are sometimes the most important.”
“There’s a really good speed factor that goes with it,” said Maurice of Cole’s play. “He can get to the net, time it right and put pressure on the other team’s defense and goaltending. His speed, his size and at the end of the day his willingness to go to the net are important.”
While the comebacks are nice, the Canes will settle for a less dramatic win in tonight’s game against the Capitals – the third meeting between the two teams in three weeks and last of the season. Washington leads the season series with a record of 3-2-0.
The Canes will likely get another crack at goaltender Jose Theodore, who allowed four goals in regulation but stymied Ruutu and Jussi Jokinen in Saturday’s shootout. Theodore is coming off a 3-0 shutout of the Florida Panthers.
Washington is on the fourth game of a five-game road trip, and was idle in Raleigh yesterday waiting for the Hurricanes. On the other side, the Canes will be playing their third game in four days, but the complete lack of travel involved with the three-game homestand at the RBC Center should help alleviate the fatigue factor.
“It should make a difference,” said Maurice. “The travel does take its toll, especially when you’re getting in at two or three in the morning. Our energy level should be high.”
Travel or not, the second half of back-to-backs have been kind to Carolina this season. The Canes are 10-3-0 in such games.
Capitals defenseman Mike Green was injured in the Capitals’ 5-2 victory in Tampa Bay on Thursday night and said he would make a decision on his status after today’s pregame skate. I saw him skate today and he looked just fine, so I expect him in the lineup. Green leads all NHL defensemen in scoring by a wide margin with 63 points in just 59 games. Sixteen of his 27 goals have come on the power play, where the Capitals rank second in the league at 24.6 percent.
Justified or not, the big news out of Washington currently is Alexander Ovechkin’s 50th goal celebration, in which he put his stick down on the ice and pretended like it was on fire. I was on Ovechkin’s side when he was criticized for getting excited after goals earlier this season, but that one may have been taking it a bit too far.
Enjoy the game tonight – should be good weather for the front lawn party, which starts at 5 p.m.