-- Carolina coach Paul Maurice matches center Brandon Sutter
's line with Patrick Dwyer
and Jussi Jokinen
against opponents' top scoring lines. It is a weighty responsibility for a 21-year-old, Maurice said, that sometimes causes Sutter to cheat towards the defensive side -- a proclivity his coach does not mind.
Perhaps owing to those defensive duties, Sutter has not scored as much this season as he did in 2009-10 when he totaled 21 goals in 72 games.
But Sutter got himself some open ice in overtime Friday on a somewhat fluky play. Hurricanes defenseman Joni Pitkanen
hammered the puck off the boards into the neutral zone, and Sutter chipped it past an Avs defenseman and raced up the right side before unleashing a wrist shot for the game-winner at 1:16 of overtime in a 2-1 Carolina victory over Colorado before 16,277 at the RBC Center.
The goal gave the Hurricanes just their second win in seven games (2-2-3) and pulled them within four points of Southeast Division rival Atlanta for the Eastern Conference's final playoff spot. Jeff Skinner
scored in regulation for Carolina, while Milan Hejduk
answered for Colorado.
After scoring twice in the Hurricanes' season opener, Sutter had scored only two more times in the 23 games entering Friday.
"He's still got some good skills -- some good hands -- so it's good for him to get such an important goal," Maurice said. "He was on the ice for the tying goal and takes a lot of pride in his game. I'm happy for him, he's earned it."
Sutter said he's been creating more chances for himself over the last few games.
"I think at first I wasn't shooting enough pucks or getting enough pucks to the net," said the wiry 6-foot-3, 183-pounder. "So that can kind of hold you back for sure. It takes a couple of games in a row to get a couple of goals and it's just a bit of streak and then right back on pace. So I'm just going to try and keep playing good defensively and try and create some offense."
For Colorado, it was the second straight overtime loss. The Avalanche lost to Atlanta on Tuesday by a 3-2 score and have lost four of their last five, falling out of the top spot in the Northwest Division.
With Chris Stewart, their second-leading scorer, out of the lineup for a while with a broken hand, the Avs will be hard pressed to find some offense. They are 1-2-2 in their last five after winning four straight but on Friday coach Joe Sacco was happy with the point on the road.
"Hey, you go on the road, you take one point into overtime and you give yourself the chance to win two," he said. "Unfortunately, we haven't gotten the results we wanted in the last two games in overtime but the guys played hard tonight. They competed."
On Friday, they won nine of the game's first 10 faceoffs, enabling them to outshoot Carolina 11-0 at the outset. When Pitkanen put a relatively benign shot on net midway through the first period for Carolina's first official shot, the RBC Center crowd let out a hearty mock cheer.
For the first two periods, the scoreless game was mostly a goaltending contest between Carolina's Cam Ward
(34 saves) and Colorado's Craig Anderson (28 saves).
Friday was Anderson's first game back since missing the last three with a groin injury. Anderson last played on Nov. 24 when he left after allowing one goal on seven shots after the first period in Vancouver. He had missed three weeks before that with a knee injury. All together, Anderson, has missed 13 of the team's 25 games, one season after playing in 71 for Colorado.
Skinner put forth an incredible individual effort -- aided by some absent Avs defense -- to get the game's first goal and his eighth of the season at 4:50 of the third period. Fighting through two defenders for control of the puck, his shot from close range was stopped by Anderson. Then he retrieved the puck from the boards behind the net with some help from Tuomo Ruutu
and tried jamming it past Anderson on his backhand. Stopped again but still undefended, he roofed a third shot into the netting.
"I mean, Ruutu made a great move to sort of separate the puck from his guy and I think Erik Cole had the other two guys tied up in the corner, so I just tried to jam it there," Skinner said, "and when I brought my head up I realized I had a bit more time to sort of try and control the puck and get it upstairs."
Skinner is tied for second among rookies in goal scoring and leads all rookies in points with 20 but had just four over his previous nine games.
"What's really important is that he had a couple of games where there wasn't a lot for him and he seems to and has been pretty consistent in tight hockey games he plays his best hockey in the third period," Maurice said. "That tells us that he's not dragging, he's not fatiguing. He's a very competitive young man and stays on that puck.
"Still, you know, you can't figure out how he always seems a foot behind on some plays, but he always manages to get a stick on that puck and that's an art."
Kevin Shattenkirk worked a two-on-one with Hejduk against Carolina's Tim Gleason
to tie the game for Colorado with 7:09 left in regulation. The 'Canes had a bit of a defensive breakdown as Shattenkirk was able to skate the puck all the way from his defensive zone into Carolina's end, setting up Hejduk for the one-timer from the left circle.
Colorado was unable to capitalize on a series of three minor penalties taken by the Canes at the start of the second period, all called within 4:12 of each other, although, luckily for Carolina, none of them overlapped.
"We were more aggressive as penalty killers and that's what we need to do," Maurice said.