RALEIGH — With their backs up against the wall yet again, the Carolina Hurricanes refused to give up.
Led by their three All-Stars, the ‘Canes defeated the Red Wings Wednesday night as Cam Ward recorded the shutout and Eric Staal tallied three assists en route to a 3-0 victory.
While Wednesday’s game wasn’t a high scoring affair, neither team played particularly well defensively. Both Detroit and Carolina succeeded in establishing significant zone time and in applying consistent offensive pressure. With the ‘Canes and Wings combining for 74 shots on goal, Ward and Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard had their work cut out for them.
In the end, Ward outplayed his counterpart, leading his team to victory.
Ward, who was 0-3-0 against Detroit coming into Wednesday’s contest, stopped all 42 shots that came his way to earn his fourth shutout of the season.
“It’s nice to get rewarded with a shutout, but I can’t take full credit,” said the Carolina netminder. “I thought our guys competed once again and refused to give up. To be able to compete against a very difficult team like Detroit, it speaks to our character.”
Derek Joslin drew first blood 4:04 into the second period on the power play. This was only Joslin’s second goal of his career and first as a Hurricane.
“Every game since being traded has been intense and fun. I’ve really enjoyed showing this team what I can do,” he said. “My first goal in Carolina came at the right time.”
With the Red Wings out-chancing the Hurricanes throughout the first period, it was imperative for Carolina to score first.
“There were some nerves on our part in the first 20 [minutes],” said head coach Paul Maurice. “We settled down after Joslin’s goal. We skated better and moved the puck better, too.”
Jeff Skinner scored the second goal of the game late in the second period to put the ‘Canes up 2-0. This was Skinner’s 30th goal of the season, making him the seventh youngest player in NHL history to reach this milestone.
“There’s a lot of emotion this time of year. There’s something to play for, and that’s all that matters,” said the All-Star rookie. “I didn’t see myself scoring 30 goals at the beginning of the season, but I’ve been able to play with great line-mates all year, and that’s been the biggest thing for me.”
“He’s gotten better as the season has gone on,” Maurice said about Skinner. “Not just the 30 goals, but his overall play. He seems to relish the pressure.”
Staal, who leads the Hurricanes with 75 points, assisted on all three goals. When asked if the ‘Canes were playing their best hockey of the year, the Carolina captain didn’t hesitate to give his opinion.
“Definitely,” he said. “We are really coming into our own playing good 5-on-5 hockey. It’s been the type of year when you have to be playing your best at this time, and that’s exactly what we are doing.
“I think we can make the playoffs, no question.”
The most crucial segment of the game occurred early in the third period. With the score still 2-0, the Red Wings went on a four minute long man-advantage. Drayson Bowman committed a high-sticking penalty and drew blood from his opponent, adding two extra minutes to the infraction.
With the fourth best power play in the league, Detroit was poised to cut Carolina’s lead in half and mount a comeback. The ‘Canes, on the other hand, had different plans.
In one of the the most critical penalty kills of the season, the Hurricanes were able to prevent the Wings from scoring. They battled hard along the boards, dove in front of shots, and did everything in their power to keep the lead at two.
“I thought our guys really competed and worked hard to find pucks,” Ward said about Carolina’s PK unit. “If there were rebounds, I got help. It was a huge momentum booster to kill off a four minute power play against one of the best teams in the league.”
Immediately following the four minute minor, Bowman jumped out of the box and joined a couple of his teammates to create a three-on-two. Staal distributed the puck to Erik Cole, who snuck a shot past Howard to put the ‘Canes up by three, putting the final nail in Detroit’s coffin. While Bowman did not touch the puck during this sequence, his presence allowed the Hurricanes to spread the ice and develop an odd-man rush.
Had the Wings scored during their lengthy power play, they would have cut the lead to one and had all of the momentum with plenty of time to spare. The Hurricanes stepped up when they needed to the most, exemplifying just how much character is in that locker room.
“This group has mental toughness, and that’s something that’s really important to develop,” said Maurice.
While Carolina’s playoff hopes have been bleak as of late, they played one of their best games of the year against Detroit and remain in the hunt. It took a grade-A effort on their part to come away with a win against the Red Wings, and Maurice’s squad gave everything they had to make sure they left the RBC Center with a win.
Carolina now sits two points behind the Rangers for the eighth and final playoff spot. Both teams have two games left to play in the regular season.
The Hurricanes return to action on Friday when they travel to Atlanta to take on the Thrashers.