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Skinner leads 'Canes past Lightning, 4-2

by Kurt Dusterberg
RALEIGH -- If the sophomore jinx is going to strike Carolina forward Jeff Skinner, it's going to take more than the first dozen games to do it.

Skinner, the 2011 Calder Trophy winner, scored twice in the second period to break open a tie game, and Chad LaRose added a pair of goals as the Hurricanes defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-2 on Tuesday night.

Skinner's goals were his fifth and sixth of the season. With 12 points in 12 games, he leads the Hurricanes is scoring.

"The offensive part of the game, he's ahead of where he was last year with his confidence and what he's trying to do with the puck," coach Paul Maurice said.  

Both Skinner and LaRose seem to have Tampa Bay's number. Skinner has six goals and nine points in eight career games against the Lightning, while LaRose has tallied 14 of his 67 lifetime goals against their Southeast Division rivals.

The Hurricanes looked to be snake-bitten early in the game, outshooting the Lightning 13-4 through 15 minutes before Tampa Bay's Teddy Purcell notched his fourth goal of the season to open the scoring. He buried the rebound of Marc-Andre Bergeron's blast from the blue line after the puck deflected off the stick of Carolina defenseman Bryan Allen. Ryan Malone also earned an assist.

"I wasn't worried about it," LaRose said of the early missed chances. "When you're taking it to a team like that, you can't be worried. You have to stay upbeat on the bench."

Carolina tied the game on the power play with 2:39 left in the first period. With Purcell serving a tripping minor to goaltender Dwayne Roloson, the Lightning goaltender squeezed the pads on Jay Harrison's slap shot, only to have the puck trickle through to the back of the crease. LaRose knocked in the loose puck converted the opportunity for his second goal of the season.

Skinner gave the Hurricanes a 2-1 lead 22 seconds into the second period. The 19-year-old winger walked the puck off the left half wall, eluded the grasp of 6-foot-6 defenseman Victor Hedman between the circles and beat Roloson with a wrister over his blocker.

"That was the book on Skinner when he came in (to the NHL), that he scores goals in heavy traffic,"  Maurice said. "And you don't really appreciate what that means until you see it on a regular basis. He has such incredible balance and strength to be able to handle those big guys and still be able to handle the puck and change directions. It's certainly something to watch."

So was Skinner's second goal, which pushed the lead to 3-1 midway through the second period. Skinner took a pass across the slot from Jussi Jokinen and finished into an open net. The play started in the Tampa Bay offensive zone when Lightning defenseman Eric Brewer broke his stick on a shot from the point. Jokinen pounced on the puck, feeding it through the neutral zone. With the stickless Brewer unable to knock Skinner off the puck, the two 'Canes forwards made two more exchanges to finish the scoring chance.

"You want to try to isolate the man with no stick," Skinner said. "(Jokinen) made a great pass to me, and then he did a great job opening up and I just put it in the net there."

Brett Connolly, Tampa Bay's first-round selection (No. 6) in the 2010 NHL Draft, scored his first NHL goal with 5:44 left in regulation to close the gap to 3-2. Martin St. Louis set up the rookie with a right-to-left pass through the crease, but LaRose made it a two-goal game with his second of the night just 54 seconds later.

Cam Ward, who shut out the Chicago Blackhawks 3-0 in his last start on Friday night, stopped 27 shots against the Lightning, including seven by Vincent Lecavalier. He has allowed two or fewer regulation goals in each of his last five games.

The Lightning had a chance to take control of the game early in the second period. Eric Staal and LaRose were whistled for simultaneous minors for tripping and hooking, respectively, giving Tampa Bay a 5-on-3 advantage for a full 2:00. Lecavalier tested Ward twice with hard shots, but Ward was equal to the task. Defensemen Tim Gleason and Allen each played 1:41 of the penalty kill, while Brandon Sutter contributed 1:31.

"You try not to think that it's two minutes," said Allen, whose teammates managed to clear the puck just once during the kill. "You take it moment by moment and limit their best options and do whatever you have to do. Cam was the best of the four of us."

Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher didn't like the look of his team's 5-on-3 opportunity, but he didn't feel it was the difference in the game.

"The 5-on-3 was a reflection of everything else -- soft, not ready to play, not ready to battle," said Boucher. "It was the same moves that we have seen on the road. We played one period. We didn't deserve to win."

Jokinen left the game early in the third period. After battling with Dominic Moore for the faceoff, Jokinen's knee was undercut awkwardly by Ryan Shannon. He did not return. Maurice said Jokinen was "upright and moving around" after the game, but said he would be evaluated further on Wednesday. He indicated that he expected Jokinen to miss some time in the lineup.
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