As well as the Canes had played through two periods of Saturday’s win against Vancouver, the team has learned the hard way not to rest easy with a 4-1 lead.
They had already surrendered that margin twice in 14 home games this season, and things were beginning to look a bit too familiar when the Canucks scored two unanswered goals to pull it within one with 5:15 left on the clock. That may not seem like much time, but it was an eternity to a team that’s been there before with unfavorable results.
“I think everybody in here wants to win so bad that we start squeezing it a little bit, and when the other team starts throwing everything at you because they’ve got nothing to lose, it’s tough,” said Matt Cullen, who had extended his points streak to five games with a second-period assist.
However, this time was different, as the Canes saved their best stand for last with a gutsy penalty kill in the closing minutes, even when the controversial high-sticking call on Sergei Samsonov may have suggested that bigger powers were working against them.
Could escaping with the lead this time around give the team more confidence holding leads in the future?
“More than a loss would have,” said Cullen with a smile."
While the held lead is something to build on in a season where such things are constantly being searched for, the reality is that the confidence was there on Saturday much more than in the comebacks previously allowed to Minnesota and Atlanta.
“We battled a bit harder, threw more hits and got better goaltending, and that’s the difference in the third period,” said Coach Paul Maurice. “When the [opposition] is coming in with five guys … if you can’t move the puck out when you’re in your own end, you’re going to be there for a while.”
Speaking of goaltending, the Canes are still hoping to have Cam Ward back on Wednesday in New Jersey – the second of a tough four-game trip that also goes through Pittsburgh, Washington and Ottawa. Maurice said that Ward would not suit up unless he was starting.
“I’m putting him back in the net as soon as he’s ready,” said the coach.
That should force the Canes to make a roster decision on Tuesday, when Manny Legace or Michael Leighton will find themselves as the odd man out. Despite playing very well after allowing a soft goal in the first period Saturday, Legace is probably the safer bet to be waived and subsequently reassigned due to his two-way contract, which would pay him less at the American League level. Leighton would still earn his NHL salary in Albany.
Carolina may have to make another move sooner than that, as Niclas Wallin did not practice on Sunday and is questionable to play Monday at Pittsburgh. Although the team reassigned Bryan Rodney on Sunday morning with Jay Harrison coming the other way, Rodney could return immediately if Wallin is unable to play.
That would mark Rodney’s fourth recall of the season, and would be even quicker than the mere three days he spent away from the team this past week. Although that’s tough on a young player (although it could be tougher – ask Tim Gleason about having to make frequent trips between Los Angeles and the Kings’ affiliate in Manchester, New Hampshire, sometime), it’s part of paying your dues.
“That’s what your American League team is for,” said Maurice. “Those kids have to learn how to do that. They’ve got to learn how to come up and go down.”
Harrison was not at practice today but will meet the team in Pittsburgh. In addition to Wallin, Chad LaRose and Ray Whitney also sat out but are expected to play. Jussi Jokinen participated with the team and could play Monday.
If the entire group of 13 forwards currently on the roster is healthy, which seems possible at this point, one would have to sit out as a healthy scratch. For a team that’s battled injuries, it’s a good problem to have, although they'd love to have it on defense as well.