-- A few weeks ago, Jeff Skinner
was an 18-year-old trying to feel his way around an NHL training camp, the youngest of many youngsters inside the Carolina Hurricanes
' locker room.
Late Friday night, he boarded the team's charter flight back to Raleigh as a full-fledged contributor to his new team.
In just his second NHL game, Skinner made a marvelous move to beat Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom
for the only goal of the shootout in a 2-1 victory that allowed Carolina to sweep the two games in Finland.
At the other end, Cam Ward
made 41 saves and then stopped all three Wild shooters in the tiebreaker.
"I thought we played well (Thursday) and we deserved to win," said Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice. "I don't think we were the better team today, but our goaltender was and we pay him, so we get to take the two points."
Skinner, who also had an assist on Carolina's lone regulation goal, admitted to being a bit surprised to be going first in the shootout. But rather than dwell on the enormity of the moment, he said he stopped thinking and just went with the flow.
He skated in on Backstrom, made a memorable backhand-to-forehand move and then lifted the puck over a prone Backstrom. It was a move he said he doesn't usually practice, but it still worked.
"It's not really one I do too often, I think," he said. "At first I was looking to shoot there and the puck was rolling on me. I tried to settle it down and when I settled it down it sort of opened up for me."
It was just another memorable moment for Skinner, who already has impressed his teammates with his skill.
"I was nervous for him, but he didn't look like he had any nerves going down the ice," said Hurricanes captain Eric Staal
. "He put on a great move, had a great shot and that's a big win."
After Skinner's goal, Ward denied Mikko Koivu
and Brent Burns, and then lunged to make a pad save on Antti Miettinen to lock up the victory.
"In the first game I was a little bit tense because I was a little bit overhyped," said Ward. "Today I tried to be relaxed and my calm self. Right from the drop of the puck I was feeling it."
He certainly was feeling it early, when he made 29 saves through two periods, and again late, when Martin Havlat had a pair of breakaways. Cal Clutterbuck
sprung him on one with 2:30 left in the third, but he pushed it about six inches wide of the left post. And with 15 seconds left in overtime, he had another chance. Jamie McBain
broke his own stick trying to slash Havlat's, but Havlat still managed to get away a shot that Ward somehow got a piece of as he rolled onto his back and kicked his legs up.
The Hurricanes played the final 6.9 seconds down a man, but it Ward was able to hold things and force the shootout.
"I've said a million times he's one of the best in the League and when he's on his game he's really tough to score on," said Staal. "He made some huge, clutch saves for us tonight and that was big. It created momentum for us. He hung us in there in the first period and we got enough for him in the end."
"That was a performance by our goaltender that you can't win without," added Maurice. "They were much better in the first 10 minutes of the game. I thought it was even for a while, then we got into penalty trouble and after that we were kind of gassed and our goaltender was the difference."
Each team had opportunities on the power play, especially with two-man advantages, but neither could seize the moment. The Wild went 1-for-5 with the man-advantage, while the Hurricanes went 0-for-5.
The Hurricanes had a 66-second 5-on-3 advantage midway through the third, but managed just two shots. In the first, the Wild had 5 1/2 straight minutes of power-play time -- including a 31-second two-man advantage -- when Drayson Bowman
was called for a high-sticking double-minor and Staal was sent off for slashing, but the Wild failed to do anything with it.
"We had some great chances," said Wild coach Todd Richards. "We had opportunities, and sometimes when it happens like that, when you have those long power plays, guys stay out too long. I don't think we managed ourselves there very well. It was a game that you're disappointed with the result but you look at every aspect and you're happy with the way the team competed."
Andrew Brunette scored a power-play goal 17:23 into the game when he banged in a Koivu rebound, but the 'Canes tied it two minutes into the second, helped by Skinner's first NHL point. He blew around Wild defenseman Clayton Stoner
to get to a dump-in. Backstrom raced out and slowed Skinner enough to prevent an open breakaway, but Skinner maintained possession of the puck and got it behind the net, where Jussi Jokinen
got control. He found Tuomo Ruutu
cutting down the middle and the Helsinki resident put the puck behind Backstrom.
The Wild nearly took the lead with late in the period when replay upheld a call that a Havlat shot that bounced off Ward's skate skittered along the goal line and not over.
Minnesota out-shot the Hurricanes, 42-37. They had 40 or more shots in a game just five times all last season.
"I think we played two good games," said Koivu. "The difference obviously yesterday was too many penalties, but other than that I think we were right there, and tonight as well. But, obviously you want to win the games."
Thanks to outstanding play from their young sniper and goalie, the Hurricanes accomplished just what they wanted on their European trip.
"They don't ask how, they just ask how many wins," said Ward. "We took that long flight in hopes of getting two wins here, and man, what a worthwhile trip. It was a fun experience, but winning on top of it makes it even better."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl