Analysis from Raleigh
→ The Carolina Hurricanes home opener has been a long time coming, and the team made it worth the price of admission with a thrilling 3-2 victory over the New York Rangers. Jeff Skinner scored two goals and added an assist, while Bryan Bickell was credited with the game-winning goal. Additionally, Cam Ward made 28 saves in his first victory of the season.
"It was a good effort. We buckled down in the third and had a real good period there when it mattered up one. We stayed aggressive and had some scoring chances," head coach Bill Peters said. "Some encouraging signs here tonight."
"That's a fun one to play in. Wardo was huge for us, especially early," Skinner said. "Coming down the stretch, it was a good job by everyone grinding it out. They have some skilled guys who made a good push, and we were able to hold on for the win."
→ Jeff Skinner made his return to the lineup tonight after missing one game due to a middle-body injury, and he made an impact immediately. Skinner scored a goal in both the first and second periods and played a central role in scoring the Canes' third goal - so much so that it initially appeared to be his third goal of the game, and hats rained down from the stands, on hat night no less.
"I told Bicksy he owes everyone in the building their hats back," Skinner joked.
Video: Skinner powers Hurricanes past Rangers, 3-2
Skinner's first goal was an incredible individual effort. After collecting the puck at his own blue line, Skinner skated down the ice, took a shot and then circled behind the net to obtain his own rebound. He then skated into the slot and scored blocker side on Henrik Lundqvist to even the score at one.
In the second period, Victor Rask won a defensive zone draw, and Brett Pesce moved the puck up through the neutral zone to Skinner. Skinner then spun off Kevin Klein and used his body to shield the puck, which he then backhanded past Lundqvist to give the Canes a 2-1 lead.
The Hurricanes were on the power play as time wound down in the second period. Skinner's slap shot beat Lundqvist with Bryan Bickell screening in front. Hats flooded the ice, as everyone in attendance received one at the door, but the goal was later announced as Bickell's. Skinner's primary assist made it a three-point night for the 24-year-old.
"I saw it hit a jersey, and I was pretty sure it was a red jersey," Skinner said. "I didn't actually see it go in, so I knew it kind of snuck in there. We'll take it, though. We'll take them any way we can get them."
Skinner is now tied for the team lead in both goals (4) and points (9) through his six games played.
"99 percent chance he was going to play, and I'm glad he did. He was huge here tonight," Peters said. "He's got the ability things happen in tight spaces. … He's dangerous. He's a goal scorer. There's not a lot of them anymore."
"That middle-body injury isn't so bad, I guess," Ward joked. "I thought he was clearly our best player. Anytime he has the puck, he can make something happen. He's just a real gifted player. He's taken that leadership role, too. I still view him as a kid, but he's not a kid anymore. He's been in this league for, what, six years now, so he's taken it upon himself to step up and lead by example."
→ Cam Ward made 28 saves on 30 shots and in his first victory of the season, made a number of big stops when his team needed them.
"Nobody needs to tell me that I need to step up," he said. "It was important for me to be ready."
And he was. A giveaway in the slot early ended up on Michael Grabner's tape, and Ward responded with a sharp stop.
"They were throwing a lot of rubber at the net. Right from the get-go, I was feeling very comfortable in the way I was moving," Ward said. "It's always nice to make some early saves and build that confidence throughout the game."
"Wardo was huge all night for us. We were able to defend as a unit," Skinner said. "It was a big team win, especially in that fashion holding onto a lead late in the game against a good team. It's a good confidence builder for us."
Ward's play earns him another start Sunday against Philadelphia.
"Yes. These are easy questions," Peters said when asked if Ward would start again. "You win, you stay in right now."
→ Victor Rask posted a two-point night with his fourth and fifth assists of the season. In doing so, he extended his point streak to seven games, which ranks tied for second in franchise history for the longest point streak to begin a season, behind only some guy named Ron Francis (11 games).
→ Here's an interesting statistic. Coming into tonight's game, the Hurricanes had posted a 3-0-0-2 (W-L-OTL-T) record in home openers in seasons in which they made the playoffs. Conversly, the team had posted a 0-10-3-0 record in seasons in which they did not make the playoffs.
Tonight's victory was the team's first home opener win since 2008-09, so what's next?
→ Hurricanes fans in Raleigh have waited longer than any other NHL fan-base to see their team open at home this season. They made the building loud, and the atmosphere was electric all night.
"I've been fortunate to be here for a long time and know the atmosphere that the fans can bring here," Ward said. "Clearly the atmosphere was great. It's always fun driving to the rink and seeing the tailgaters. Very pleased to reward the fans with a win."
"There was a lot of energy and a great atmosphere out there," Skinner said. "You want to start the year off strong at home."
→ Opening Weekend rolls on when the Hurricanes host the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday evening at 5 p.m.
"Tomorrow is another day that we have an opportunity to get better in preparation for an opponent that we've already played in Philly," Peters said.
"It was a good first one at home, and now we want to build off it," Skinner said.