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Hurricanes blank League-leading Blues 2-0

by Kurt Dusterberg
RALEIGH -- Carolina's Chad LaRose barely waited for the final horn. Then in one quick swoop, he snatched the puck from behind the net and deposited it in the glove of goaltender Cam Ward.

The game puck made a nice keepsake for a number of reasons — a 2-0 win over the NHL-leading St. Louis Blues, a shutout, the 200th win of Ward's career. For LaRose, it was all of the above, and a chance to punctuate a friendship.

"Cam's a great buddy of mine," said LaRose. "We were roommates our first three seasons in the League together and we won a Stanley Cup together. I like to play for Cam. He's the backbone of the team. Just getting those pucks, that's how much you care about him."

LaRose provided more than a souvenir for his goaltender on Thursday night. After a hard-fought game yielded no scoring through the first 50 minutes, LaRose swept a wraparound off a St. Louis defenseman and past goaltender Brian Elliott.

With less than three minutes remaining, Jeff Skinner added an insurance goal on a beautiful individual play. He skated the puck from his own blue line, before kicking the puck to his stick in the slot and finishing a wrister.

The Hurricanes held on from there, relying on Ward's 40-save performance. With the 20th shutout of his career, Ward tied Arturs Irbe for the most in franchise history.  Like his buddy, Ward was happy that LaRose played a role in a meaningful career accomplishment.

"He's a guy I have a lot of respect for," Ward said. "We've battled through our careers together. It was great to see him get that puck and give it to me at the end of the game. He had the game-winning goal, too, so I certainly could have given it right back to him."

For Carolina, the win continues a curious trend. Despite spending much of the season near the bottom of the Eastern Conference, the Hurricanes have saved many of their best performance for top opponents. In addition to sweeping four games from the Boston Bruins, Carolina has a pair of shutout wins against Washington and one each against Chicago and now St. Louis.

Hurricanes defenseman Bryan Allen couldn't put a finger on why Carolina thrives against highly skilled teams, but he figures his team can learn from it.

"We have to realize how we won tonight and keep moving forward in that direction every game," he said.

Despite being a nip-and-tuck affair, both teams had a handful of chances to break the game open.

The Blues' best opportunity came in the first period. LaRose put his team in a tough spot with a double minor for high sticking, but Carolina killed it off without any stoppages in play. At times, the Hurricanes penalty-killers looked gassed, but they kept the Blues at bay.

"To have to kill four minutes in a tight game like this, there was no room for error," Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said. "We said we had to win the special teams game tonight if we could. That kill was a crucial time of the game. Not only did we kill it, I thought it really gave us a boost."

Carolina came close to posting the first goal several times. In the first period, Jay Harrison's slap shot trickled through Elliott and settled on the goal line, only to have St. Louis defenseman Roman Polak sweep it away. Carolina forward Andreas Nodl had two separate chances with brief looks at an open net, but he couldn't convert either opportunity. Nodl's second chance came in the third period on the rebound of a Tim Brent backhander that hit the crossbar.

"When the game was on the line in the third period, we didn't manage the puck well and that was the difference in the hockey game," St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We did a lot of good things, but we didn't manage the puck properly when the game was on the line.

"Both goalies were good. We probably hit four goal posts. Their guy (Ward) was good, our guy (Elliott) was good, but we were the first to crack."

One player who didn't crack was Skinner. The diminutive forward has taken his share of physical punishment in two NHL seasons, and Thursday night was no exception. On one shift in the first period, he was checked from behind into the boards. After getting up slowly, he went to the slot, where defenseman Barret Jackman leveled him with another hit.

"It's something you've got to battle through," the 19-year-old said. "You've got to be aware of where you are on the ice. I go to the slot there and I'm sort of expecting to get hit."

Skinner might also have expected a goal after firing six shots at Elliott. When he finally got on the board with 2:38 remaining, it was his 20th of the season in his 55th game.

"I like the energy and the competitive edge he played with tonight," Muller said of Skinner. "The nice thing is he didn't get off his game. He created a lot of offensive stuff. I thought he was very dangerous with the puck."

For the Hurricanes, the win looked a lot like many recent efforts. The goals were in short supply, they needed a full 60 minutes and Ward fended off a lot of pucks. It's a formula that has worked well for Carolina.

"Ward looked really confident in the net," Muller said. "That's what we need from him -- a great performance to beat a team like St. Louis. It's a nice milestone and a nice way to do it, too. He had to work for it."
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