RALEIGH, N.C. -- When the final horn sounded Sunday, San Jose Sharks goaltender Troy Grosenick sent his water bottle flying, windmill-style, toward the bench.
It touched off a celebration befitting Grosenick's unlikely performance, a 45-save shutout in his NHL debut. The 22-year-old undrafted free agent was tested repeatedly and never flinched in a 2-0 win against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena.
Tomas Hertl's goal late in the first period stood up in a tense game until Joe Thornton finished off Carolina with an empty-net goal with eight seconds remaining.
The Sharks celebrated the win enthusiastically in the dressing room, standing on chairs to witness Grosenick's post-game interview. As reporters gathered, the players shouted, "Talk about yourself in the third person!" Another yelled, "Do this like you're really cocky, like you did it all yourself!"
Grosenick fought back laughter, then spoke with the same composure he showed on the ice. Asked how he weathered an early sequence of shots by Carolina, he had it covered.
"It's kind of nice because you don't have to think about too much else when a lot of rubber is getting thrown at you," said Grosenick, who was 7-2-1 with the Worcester Sharks of the American Hockey League when he was recalled Nov. 12. "I didn't feel like it was too terribly tough of a game. I felt like I was seeing everything, even when they were trying to screen me."
But he needed to be sharp throughout the game. With 8:20 remaining in the first period, he stopped Victor Rask alone from the left post, then fended off Rask's attempt at the rebound.
Then with 1:14 remaining in the period, the Sharks gave the rookie goalie some breathing room. Hertl's pass to Thornton on a 2-on-1 was broken up by Andrej Sekera, but when the puck trickled through the legs of the Hurricanes defenseman, Hertl poked it past Carolina goalie Anton Khudobin's right pad. Barclay Goodrow assisted on the goal for his first NHL point.
From that point on, the game belonged to Grosenick. One night after a 2-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, San Jose coach Todd McLellan figured he might coax a little extra effort out of his tired team, which was playing the sixth game in a seven-game road trip.
"We thought he could be a rallying point, there is no doubt about it," McLellan said. "As the night went deeper and deeper, the players believed they could get the job done because he was playing so well. We started to play the way we needed to but they still came after us."
In the final minute of the game, the Hurricanes pressed for the tying goal.
Grosenick stopped Hurricanes captain Eric Staal in close, followed by a shot from Sekera from the point. Jeff Skinner had a late chance too. But it was Grosenick's night, by everyone's measure.
"It doesn't matter how long you've been around the League, you get excited about seeing young players come in and do well," Thornton said. "It was a fun night for all of us."
Even for Thornton, a 19-year veteran, Grosenick's moment registered for its sheer excitement and improbability.
"Unbelievable," he said. "He's been in the NHL for, I think, three days now. First appearance, shutout. What can we say? We're so happy for him."
By his own admission, Grosenick was never pegged for an NHL career. Despite being a Hobey Baker Award finalist as a junior at Union College, he didn't make enough of an impression to be drafted.
"During my draft year, I don't think I was good enough to be drafted to be completely honest with you," Grosenick said. "I was a late bloomer but I just kept working hard. That's the key … hard work pays off. Obviously, it's nice to be here and we'll see how long it lasts, but I'm going to enjoy the ride while I'm here."
Grosenick earned the respect of the Hurricanes (5-9-3), who fell to their third straight defeat, including a 2-1 road loss to the Boston Bruins on Saturday.
"He played well obviously, first career start and he gets a shutout on the road," Carolina coach Bill Peters said. "He did his job and [we] need to make it harder on goaltenders, not only tonight, but on most nights. [We need] somebody in the blue paint, somebody in the goaltender's eyes."
But Peters' complaints were few after watching his team generate a season-high 45 shots.
"You need to score to win," the Carolina coach said. "You've got 40 minutes (after San Jose's first goal) to generate a goal. What would you change? I don't think you'd change a whole bunch. So you just stay with it and continue on."
The Hurricanes will now look for some wins on the road; they embark on a five-game trip that starts Tuesday at the Dallas Stars. The Sharks will finish their trip on Tuesday against the Buffalo Sabres.
But for now, the Sharks can celebrate a rare feat, knowing that it took 22 blocked shots and a strong will to give a rookie a moment he will remember forever.
"As the night wore on, I think we wanted to do it more and more for him and we improved," McLellan said. "We're really happy for him."