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Ponikarovsky's pair leads Canes past Flyers

by Mike G. Morreale
PHILADELPHIA -- Despite being mired in an offensive slump most of the season, Carolina Hurricanes forward Alexei Ponikarovsky always maintained a positive outlook -- something that didn't go unnoticed in the eyes of coach Paul Maurice.
"He was one of the lone forward voices, always barking on the bench, always up, always going," Maurice said.
The 31-year-old veteran was finally rewarded on Monday when he scored a pair of power-play goals en route to his first multi-point game of the season, igniting Carolina to a 4-2 victory against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center.
Ponikarovsky's second goal of the game with 1:27 left in the second, that gave Carolina a commanding 4-2 edge, seemed to deflate any momentum the Flyers might have built.
"You have to get pucks on the net and you're going to get one or two more whacks at it like Poni's goal [late in the second]," Maurice said. "That's the difference in the game. I'm happy he got rewarded because he was a very consistent leader for us through our tough stretch."
In addition to Ponikarovsky, who signed a free-agent contract with the Hurricanes last July, forward Chad LaRose chipped in with a goal and two assists in the triumph.
"I'm just happy about the win; to contribute is always nice but definitely getting the win first … this is a team game," LaRose told
Carolina defenseman Jay Harrison blocked five shots for the game to complement a stifling effort between the pipes by goalie Cam Ward (30 saves).
"I thought I really had a good eye on all the shots and that's a credit to the guys working in the zone, moving bodies and letting you see those lanes," Ward said. "Blocking shots is a commitment to play strong defensively. Guys want to turn this thing around and be successful. To do that, you need guys willing to throw their body in front of shots because sometimes the goalie can't see it."
The Hurricanes (8-11-3) have strung together two straight victories for the first time since winning three straight from Oct. 12-18. The victory marked Carolina's first over the Flyers in three tries this season. It was Carolina's 13th win in 57 tries all-time in Philadelphia, dating back to 1979-80. The Flyers had entered the game having won 10 of their last 11 games meetings against the Hurricanes.
"We came in with the mindset that we wanted to play a good defensive game and we'll get whatever we can offensively," Ponikarovsky told "It all depends on how we mentally prepare for the game, so everybody was sharp and we got the win."
Philadelphia (11-6-3), which dropped its second straight, was without the services of minute-munching defensemen Chris Pronger (virus) and Braydon Coburn (upper body). Meanwhile, whenever the Flyers went on the attack, Ward was there.
"Personally, I did feel sharp," Ward said. "It was important to get off to a good start and especially in this building. So it's rewarding to see the boys work hard and get the big win."
Ward's best save came 7:04 into the third and his team holding a 4-2 lead when he denied Scott Hartnell with his left pad off a quick snapshot from the slot. He'd then turn away Jakub Voracek on a pair of wrist shots at 12:18 to maintain that two-goal lead. Ward stopped all 13 shots in the first when Carolina opened a 2-0 lead and then made seven saves in the third.
"Cam's been huge the whole year, so he made some key saves at some key times and that's what you need out of your goalie," forward Jeff Skinner said. "Not only do you need the big saves, but when it matters and he makes them when it matters."
Each team scored twice in the second.
Philadelphia pulled within 2-1 at 1:34 of the second when James van Riemsdyk powered his way to the front of the net before stuffing home his eighth of the season. The Hurricanes regained their two-goal lead just 2:03 later when LaRose ripped home a shot from the left circle that beat Ilya Bryzgalov to the short side. LaRose was penalized for hooking at 6:14 of the second, but Carolina would block five shots on the ensuing Flyers power-play. Leading the way were Jay Harrison and Brandon Sutter with two blocks apiece. The Hurricanes finished with 20 blocks for the game.
"Blocking shots gets contagious," Maurice said. "When a guy blocks one, it gets everyone going. When you're not running all over the place and not trying for an ill-advised steal, you can get into shooting lanes and get it done."
Flyers rookie forward Matt Read then extended his goal-scoring streak to five games on a power-play blast from the right hash off a cross-ice feed from van Riemsdyk to cut the deficit to 3-2. The goal was Read's sixth in his last five games. The Hurricanes took a 4-2 lead on Ponikarovsky's second power-play goal of the game at 18:33. LaRose took the initial shot to Bryzgalov's right before Ponikarovsky took two swipes at the bouncing puck.
In the absence of Pronger and Coburn, Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren recalled defensemen Kevin Marshall and Marc-Andre Bourdon from Adirondack in the American Hockey League. Holmgren said both players are listed day-to-day. Marshall earned 14:11 of ice time and Bourdon, 15:49. Andrej Meszaros led all Flyers defenseman in ice time (24:32) on 31 shifts.
"It was obviously two good players sitting down," Skinner said. "No matter who they have out there, they're a good team that can come at you from all different angles."
Said Flyers coach Peter Laviolette: "We certainly would rather have them in there. They are both big bodies and terrific defensemen for us. That's not the case [Monday]; they weren't there."
Carolina opened a 2-0 lead in the first on goals by Ponikarovsky and Skinner. Ponikarovsky collected a pass from LaRose in the slot and deposited his fourth of the season on the power-play at 13:42.
Skinner's was a thing of beauty with just 15 seconds remaining in the first when he deftly spun away from Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen at the Philadelphia blue line and skated in on Byzgalov down right wing before tucking home his team-leading ninth of the season.
"I was coming through the neutral zone and didn't think I had the speed, so I tried to generate a little bit by turning around and it just opened up for me there," Skinner said. "I just put it on net. [Bryzgalov] did a good job saving the first one, and just tried to tap in the second one."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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