RALEIGH–In a make or break game, the Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Montreal Canadiens, 6-2, to keep their playoff hopes alive Wednesday night.
After a thrilling 3-2 shootout victory Tuesday night in Washington, the Hurricanes came into tonight’s match-up against Montreal with renewed playoff hopes. The restored energy was evident early on when rookie sensation Jeff Skinner netted two first period goals, giving Carolina a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
“Jussi [Jokinen] and Tuomo [Ruutu] did a great job getting in on the forecheck and helped create both my goals,” Skinner said. “The puck sort of popped out to me both times and I was able to put it in.”
Skinner finished the night with three points (2G, 1A) and was on the ice for five of Carolina’s six goals, earning the first star of the game.
Michael Cammalleri cut the 2-0 lead in half early in the second period, but Carolina countered quickly thanks to goals from defensemen Jamie McBain and Joni Pitkanen.
McBain’s first tally came just 47 seconds after Cammalleri’s, preventing the Canadiens from building any kind of momentum. The Carolina defenseman also scored late in the third.
“Any time you can respond after the opponent scores is huge,” said McBain. “It brought the momentum back on our side and we were able to carry forward.”
Cam Ward has made more saves than anyone in the league this year (2,044), so facing an incredibly high number shots tonight wasn’t out of the ordinary. Carolina’s All-Star goaltender was spectacular yet again, making 38 total saves.
The Canadiens — who broke a 199:01 scoring drought in Tuesday’s win over the Thrashers — struggled to find the back of the net against the Hurricanes. Montreal’s inability to score was not a product of their offense; rather it was the play of Ward that prevented them from scoring. The Habs outshot the ‘Canes and controlled the pace of the game for the majority of the first two periods, but it was to no avail.
“To be able to respond and to play with the tempo we did tonight really speaks volumes to the character in this room,” Ward said. “We clearly know what’s at stake here.”
“It’s going to be a difficult road, but we have to take it one game at a time,” he said about reaching the playoffs. “There’s no better group to do it than the one right here.”
Head coach Paul Maurice liked what he saw out of his team the past two games and believes the pieces are in place get over the hump and make the playoffs.
“I think in the past few weeks we’ve found a bit of an identity,” said Maurice. “The things they are saying to each other after adversity-you get a sense back there that the players have taken over. It’s a good place to be.
“We’re where we should be right now. We’re in the fight, and that’s what it’s all about.”
The term “must-win game” gets thrown around fairly loosely these days, but if there was any night the Hurricanes had to come away with a victory, it was this one. Heading into Wednesday’s game, Carolina sat three points back of Buffalo for the final playoff spot with only six games remaining. Had the Hurricanes lost to the Canadiens, they would have fallen five points behind the Sabres and the Rangers with only five games remaining, all but eliminating them from postseason contention.
The road to the playoffs remains tough for the Hurricanes, but not impossible. Carolina is peaking at the right time, winning six of their past seven games. If they can continue their impressive pace and get a little bit of help, the ‘Canes may be playing after the 82nd game.
Carolina returns to action on Saturday when they travel to New York to face the Islanders.