RALEIGH–In a battle between two Southeast division rivals, the Atlanta Thrashers defeated the Carolina Hurricanes Wednesday night at the RBC Center, 3-2. Tim Stapleton scored the winning goal 1:38 into overtime to seal the victory for the struggling Thrashers.
Just over a minute into extra time, the ‘Canes turned the puck over in the neutral zone, leading to an odd man rush for the Thrashers. Ron Hainsey carried the puck past the blueline, waited patiently, and fed a perfect pass to Stapleton who knocked home the game-winner.
Stapleton, who only has two goals in 30 games this season, has begun to grow more comfortable as he adjusts to the overall pace of the NHL.
“I feel more confident recently,” he said. “I’m just trying to make plays and get more looks.”
“To get that extra point is all that matters right now. To be a part of that is huge.”
While the Thrashers allowed 37 shots on goal, they did a good job clogging the shooting lanes and preventing even more pucks from reaching the net. The ‘Canes had 27 total shots in the first period, but only 10 reached goalie Ondrej Pavelec.
Atlanta got off to a fast start, taking a 2-0 lead into the first intermission courtesy of Rob Schremp and Tobias Enstrom. Tonight was the first time in the past seven games the Thrashers have scored first.
Head coach Craig Ramsay would see his team’s lead dissolve, as Troy Bodie and Erik Cole scored for Carolina in the second and third periods, respectively. Cole’s game-tying goal came on a breakaway 12:21 into the third period.
“They were changing lines, and [Stillman] got a hold of it, and he put the puck right on my tape,” said Cole. “Fortunately, it went in.”
While the ‘Canes couldn’t find a way to win tonight, the extra point they picked up in the standings could prove valuable down the stretch. Carolina is now tied with Buffalo for 8th place in the East with 72 points.
“We have to prepare to take five out of six points this week,” said Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice about the upcoming schedule. “That’s the mentality we need to have.”
Thrasher All-Star Dustin Byfuglien was scratched from the lineup tonight due to injury, allowing 22-year-old Paul Postma to make his NHL debut. Atlanta’s budding prospect played admirably, perhaps a sign of things to come.
“I was a little nervous at first, but once I got a few shifts in I felt pretty good,” said the Alberta native. “I need a little more experience at this level.”
Despite his age and inexperience, Postma proved he belonged in the NHL. While he may have had butterflies in his stomach, the nerves were not evident in his play. He skated well, passed with efficiency, and displayed good vision across the ice.
“He can pass and handle the puck well,” coach Ramsay said about Postma. “He looked real good.”
In his first game back from injury, Pavelec played at the top of his game, stopping 35 of 37 shots. The Hurricanes applied consistent pressure throughout the second half of the contest, but the Czech netminder was up to the task. Pavelec made several key saves with his glove late in the third period to allow his team the chance to win in overtime.
“I’m 100% ready to go,” he said about his injury. “Tonight was a big win for us.”
The ‘Canes and Thrashers have been evenly matched all year, as all five games against each other have been decided by a single goal. Four of those five have gone to overtime. The two teams will play each other once more in Atlanta on April 8th.
The Hurricanes return to action on Friday when they travel to Washington to take on Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals.