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Recap: Canes Claw Back to Top Panthers

by Michael Smith @MSmithCanes /

Analysis from Raleigh

→ The Carolina Hurricanes rode a three-goal second period to a 3-2 win over the Florida Panthers on Sunday night in Raleigh. Derek Ryan scored the game-deciding goal and Michael Leighton made 31 saves in the Canes' comeback victory and their fifth consecutive win at home.

"We just came out flat, right?" Ryan said. "We weren't prepared for the game. We didn't come into the rink and get ourselves ready to play. In between periods, obviously we hold ourselves to a high standard. Everyone in here knows that. Some players stepped up and said a few things. Everyone, I think, knew that we had to contribute a little bit more and get better. I think everyone did that."

Video: Leighton and Hurricanes rally back to win 3-2 at home

→ First, there was the first period, 20 minutes in which the Hurricanes saw their penalty killing streak end at 25, lost their top center to injury and trailed 2-0 heading into the intermission.

Jonathan Marchessault scored an early power-play goal, the first such tally the Canes have surrendered in the entire month of November. Aleksander Barkov had the initial shot, which was redirected by ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr in front. Jagr's stick then got tangled under Michael Leighton, who couldn't slide across the crease after making the original save. Marchessault then fired the puck into the net for his 10th goal of the season.

"Those guys have done a fantastic job, and I'd chalk that first one up to mental fatigue more than anything," head coach Bill Peters said of the penalty kill. "Now it will be good that we can start another streak. That's the way I look at that."

Four minutes later, Aaron Ekblad fired a shot on net that Jagr's net-front presence likely helped into the back of the net.

"The first couple of goals were both kind of fluky, so I felt like I got better as the game went on and got a little more comfortable," Leighton said.

Most concerning, then, was the fact that Jordan Staal did not play the last seven minutes and change of the period. The official word: upper-body injury for the Canes' top center, who did not return to the game.

"Don't know. Haven't talked to any of the medical people," Peters said at the beginning of his postgame press conference, without prompt. "I'll have more to tell you about that tomorrow."

"That's a tough loss. You look at that, and people have to step up," Jeff Skinner said. "Not one person is going to fill that void. It was a good job by everyone contributing, stepping up and getting the win."

→ And then there was the second period, in which three minutes and 28 seconds altered the course of this game.

"As a team, we knew we had to play better in the second period," Leighton said. "We came out flying, and that made my job a little easier."

The Canes broke the ice just over five minutes into the period. Andrej Nestrasil was strong along the near boards and slid the puck down to Matt Tennyson, who roamed below the goal line. Tennyson then centered to Viktor Stalberg, who won a battle in front and banged in the one-timer.

"We needed somewhere to start. We needed a starting point," Peters said. "We got a starting point and we built off of it."

Not even two minutes later, Jeff Skinner raced down the ice, shrugged off the reaching stick of Ekblad and went forehand, backhand, shelf for the game-tying goal.

"He manned up today," Peters said of Skinner. "He manned up big time."

Just over 90 seconds after that, on the first faceoff of the Canes' first power play of the night, Derek Ryan hopped on a rebound and snuck it short side to put his team on top, 3-2.

"It felt really nice," Ryan said. "If I'm getting that [power play] opportunity, I have to capitalize on it. It was nice to get the lead at that point in the game and really nice to get my first of the year."

And just like that, it was a new hockey game. The Hurricanes had life and had flushed the first period clean out of their system.

Video: Leighton, Skinner, Stalberg, and Peters Postgame

→ So what changed between the first and second period?

"I think everyone knew. You come in, and there's not many ways to put it. We just weren't good enough," Skinner said. "In all areas of the game, we wanted to get better, we wanted to get more compete. I think we did a good job coming out in the second and responding, playing together more and ultimately getting a win."

"It was very, very positive for me. I'm coming off the bench as the last guy into the room, and they're already talking about what's going on and what we have to do. It was outstanding," Peters said. "I give them all the credit."

What needed to be fixed was evident, and the Hurricanes, to a man, fixed it.

"Everyone is aware of the standard we hold ourselves to. That first period wasn't good enough," Skinner said. "Especially in our own building, you want to come out and have a better start than that, and coming off two losses, you want to have a response. It wasn't good enough."

"They know. We played at such a high level for so long, to be honest with you," Peters said. "We played better the whole road trip every game. We've been at a high level at home prior to going on the road, and that wasn't the level we've set the standard at. They're very aware of that, and they fixed it. Good for them."

→ Before tonight, Michael Leighton last started for the Hurricanes on March 16, 2010, and his last start in the NHL came on Jan. 27, 2013.

In his return to the NHL crease, Leighton made 31 saves, earning his first NHL win since Dec. 30, 2010, the "chop wood, carry water" postgame awards and first-star honors.

"I'm happy to be back and happy to get the win," the 35-year-old goaltender said. "It's been a long road. It's good to be in the NHL, it's good to be in Carolina and it's good to get a win."

"Leights was my roomie in Charlotte for the first part of the year, so I got to know him quite well. He's an awesome guy, really humble and hard-working. Just from my perspective, me knowing him pretty well, it's awesome to see a humble guy like that get rewarded," Ryan said. "He was one of, if not our best player."

Once the Canes grabbed the lead, Leighton helped to preserve it. Perhaps his best save of the game came when he snared a shot off the stick of Aleksander Barkov, who was open in the slot.

"I thought he was outstanding. Once it was 3-2 he made four or five big saves," Peters said. "He loves the game, and he's a real good goalie. I know he had a real good year last year in the Chicago system. … He's got a great attitude. He's good with the guys, and I know the guys enjoy him. He came in and did a good job for us tonight."

→ Here's a fun stat: 11 of the Hurricanes' 18 skaters tonight were not yet born when Jaromir Jagr played in his first NHL game (Oct. 5, 1990).

→ That was an incredibly brief stop in Raleigh. The Hurricanes hit the road again on Monday for another three-game set that will take them through New York and Boston before again returning home for a Sunday evening tilt.

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