Staal, Hurricanes Surging for ‘Canes

This article originally appeared at The Hockey Writers.

RALEIGH, N.C.—The Carolina Hurricanes continued their recent surge on Monday night, decimating the Washington Capitals 5-0 at the RBC Center. Eric Staal had two goals and an assist and Justin Peters recorded his first career shutout.

Justin Faulk and Anthony Stewart scored 88 seconds apart in the first period to give the Hurricanes and early 2-0 lead, one they would not relinquish. Andreas Nodl also notched a goal for the home team.

Carolina is now 13-7-5 in their past 25 games, a turnaround that has the once-demoralized Hurricanes in high spirits. Head coach Kirk Muller, who deserves much of the credit for Carolina’s revival, was happy with his team’s energy and discipline on Monday.

“Our guys were aware of how big tonight’s game was,” he said. “We came out hard, we came out focused—it was a good performance by everybody.

Peters, filling in for the injured Cam Ward, attributed the shutout to the strong play of his teammates in front of him. The Canes only allowed 17 shots on goal, a season best.

“All four lines were rolling, all the D going, the crowd was right behind us. It was fun to be a part of,” he said. “I’m just the beneficiary of the effort the guys put in.”

“He’s really prepared himself,” Muller said of Peters. “He’s worked hard and the players are happy playing in front of him.”

Peters may not have been particularly busy on Monday, but he did all that was asked of him and came up big on several occasions, none more crucial than his first save of the night.

Peters stoned Mike Knuble 3:17 into the first on a point-blank chance that set the tone for the rest of the night. The Canes drew a penalty seconds after their goalie’s big stop, resulting in a power-play goal.

And from there, the home team never looked back.

Eric Staal had one of his best games of the season against Washington, collecting three points and finishing the night with a plus-three plus/minus rating. Carolina’s captain now has points in his past six games played.“

When he goes, the whole team goes,” Muller said of Staal. “He’s really just elevated his game in the last three weeks, and it’s good to see him being rewarded for it.”

Staal’s early season struggles was easily the most concerning issue surrounding the Hurricanes for the better part of four months, and his improved play has gone hand-in-hand with his team’s recent success.

A big reason why Staal has improved so much has been the recent play of Jiri Tlusty, who now has points in eight straight games after gaining two assists on Monday. Skating on Staal’s wing, the Czech native has been one of the league’s most productive forwards in the past month, and it’s showing both in his number and in those of his linemates.

“(Tlusty) has been a two-way guy that’s been great with the puck,” Muller said. “He’s allowed Staal to be more of that give-and-go, straight lined guy. He’s making plays but he’s shooting the puck. They’re playing more north-south instead of east-west.”

Faulk opened up the scoring 3:14 into the game on the power-play, potting a snap-shot past Tomas Vokoun from the left circle. The rookie blueliner also had his first fight of the season late in the second period, defeating veteran Troy Brouwer in a long, hard-fought battle.

“It was fun,” Faulk said of his fight. “I don’t think that’s my role, but I don’t have too much of a problem stepping up into that situation.”

Stewart scored his seventh goal of the season less than two minutes after Faulk lit the lamp, his first since January 3. The former Atlanta Thrasher has been playing his best hockey of the season since clearing waivers on February 7, but it took until Monday night for him to find the back of the net.

“(I’ve been) a little bit snake-bitten the past couple of weeks,” Stewart said. “But we’re getting some bodies banging, going to the net, and we’re being rewarded for that.

“(Being put on waivers) is obviously motivation, but I’m a professional and I still believe I can play at a high level here and I need to prove it day in and day it. It was a wake up call, but I’m happy to be here.”

The Hurricanes played their best period of hockey in the first 20 minutes against the Caps, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Having not received the recognition they deserve for their recent upswing, Carolina was able to showcase their newfound success in front of a national television audience on the new NBC Sports Network.

Carolina will return to action on Thursday when the Ducks visit the RBC Center.

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