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Jokinen, Sutter key Canes to season-opening win

by Dan Rosen
HELSINKI -- The two forwards that have to produce for the Carolina Hurricanes to make a run to the playoffs got on the board in a big way Thursday night.

Brandon Sutter scored twice, including the game-winner late in the second period, and Jussi Jokinen had a goal and an assist. The result, a 4-3 Hurricanes' victory over the Minnesota Wild at Hartwall Arena in the first game of the 2010 Compuware NHL Premiere, is the perfect elixir for a team that was so grisly at the start of last season that it could never recover.

Sutter had 21 goals last season and Jokinen scored 30, but no one can be certain that they'll reproduce that success this season. With that in mind, Game 1 of 82 gave coach Paul Maurice a good indication that the young forwards are building toward something better, and his young team isn't going to go suffer from the same evils as last season.

"Both (Jokinen and Sutter) are in somewhat similar situations, they had big offensive years last year but it's not the fifth big offensive year," Maurice said. "So it's good, because some of that confidence comes back early. Guys like (Eric) Staal can go three or four games without scoring and not question themselves. Players like that need something early to get that confidence."

For Jokinen, it was a goal he'll never forget.

He had 30 friends and family members make the four-hour drive south from Kalajoki to see him play an NHL game in Finland. They were rewarded midway through the second period when Jokinen gave the Canes a 3-2 lead with a 5-on-3 goal.

Minnesota defenseman Cam Barker and center Matt Cullen went to the box just 10 seconds apart -- and 47 seconds after Cullen scored his own power-play goal to make it 2-2 -- to set Carolina up with the two-man advantage.

With the puck on his stick in the right circle Jokinen saw Staal at the left post so he tried a pass toward the net. The puck, clearly targeted for Staal, wound up hitting off Wild defenseman Nick Schultz's leg in the slot and redirecting past goalie Niklas Backstrom (27 saves).

Backstrom said he was screened and could not recover in time. Staal was ready for a one-timer until he saw the puck hit off Schultz.

"I knew Backstrom didn't think I am going to throw the puck to the net," Jokinen said during a post-game press conference that included a mix between English and Finnish. "I saw Eric there in front of the net so I tried to get the puck to the front of the net. I think I was a little lucky there."

Roughly seven minutes later, Sutter scored his second of the night and his second in the final two minutes of a period to give the Canes a 4-2 cushion. Carolina needed it because in the third period it sat back, committed three penalties and let Wild defenseman Brent Burns score a power-play goal with 3:31 to play in the game.

Canes goalie Cam Ward (26 saves) shut the door to preserve the victory.

"We got a few good ones there and that really helped us going into the third," said Sutter, who also scored a power-play goal with 9.7 seconds left in the first period. "That two-goal cushion is nice and Wardo played great in the third. You know they're going to come hard and maybe we sat back a little, but after they got that one we pretty much shut things down and we can be proud of that."

The Wild were proud that they generated so many quality chances, but just like they did after most games last season, they were lamenting consecutive mental lapses that cost them.

On Thursday night, it was the second period.

Minnesota gave up three goals because it committed three penalties and never could get its offense jumping.

"We have to learn to be patient, learn to play 60 minutes, shift in and shift out," Backstrom said. "No matter what happens we have to win the next shift. It's a 60-minute game. Maybe we also need to take less penalties. We can't be in the box that much, but it's the first game and the emotion is going to be there. Now we know what we can do out there."

The Wild, who were 13th in the West last season with 84 points, still haven't beaten an NHL team this season, as they also lost their six preseason games in North America. Forward Cal Clutterbuck said despite the obvious disappointment, he's not worried … yet.

"If you look at the guys in this room and the talent, as soon as this group comes together our wins are going to grow exponentially," Clutterbuck confidently told "It's a question of finding that rhythm, and we're going to find it."

They'll get that chance Friday night in Game 2 of this part of the Premiere series. Minnesota coach Todd Richards will be looking for his team to be smarter and a heck of a lot quicker.

"This League is too good and the teams are too close that if you give up three goals (in one period), that's a pretty big hill to climb," Richards said. "We battled, but we made some mistakes. I think we got outskated in some areas of the game that led to opportunities for them. We got caught watching at times, checking with our eyes instead of moving with our legs."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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