As disappointing as Tuesday’s loss in Vancouver was, last night’s huge shootout win in San Jose makes up for that in a big way.
Coming into the game, San Jose had only been beaten four times at home all season. Four times! Getting points in the Shark Tank hasn’t been an easy thing to do this year, and for the Canes to accomplish that with big players out of the lineup and Cam Ward on the bench, not to mention having to rebound from the ugly way their last game ended – that’s impressive. I think we all would have been happy to come out of there with one point, making two a home run.
Credit goes to a lot of individuals for stepping up in this one, including Michael Leighton. I’m not sure you’ll find a tougher goaltending assignment than going into San Jose for your first game action in almost a month. With 37 saves and two more in the shootout, he certainly made the most of it. As good as Ward has been, it’s a big help to know that Ward can get a break here and there down the stretch and the team will be in solid hands.
Coming back from a goal down in the third period was made all the more remarkable by the fact that they did it without Eric Staal, who left the game with a lower body injury. From everything I’ve heard I think that he’ll be OK for Saturday – given the man’s track record with injuries and the need to keep winning games, he’d have to be seriously hurting not to be. Today’s scheduled practice in San Jose has been cancelled, but we’ll try to have an update on his status sometime this afternoon.
Continuing with the trend of stepping up, Matt Cullen played like a first-line center with Staal and Rod Brind’Amour out, setting up Ray Whitney with that great pass to tie the game. Cullen has an extra gear that he hits for long stretches every now and then, and with seven points in his last four games, that’s where he is right now.
A shoutout also goes to Jakub Petruzalek, who earned his first NHL point on his assist to Sergei Samsonov in the second period. Like fellow rookie Bryan Rodney, who earned his first NHL point in Vancouver, he didn’t look intimidated on his big-league debut, and was noticeable on several different occasions.
With every game being so important, I think these last few games have had a little something extra to them. Every goal is a little more uplifting, every goal against a little more disappointing. Should be a fun ride for the next two months.
Saturday’s game is a Cool Bars night over at the Carolina Ale House in Cary. If the Canes can come away with two more from that one, they would have four out of six on this road trip, which should be considered a big success.