RALEIGH, N.C. – It’s amazing what a win can do.
It was a happier night all the way around for the majority of the 10,687 in attendance at PNC Arena as the Carolina Hurricanes beat the NHL‘s Eastern Conference-leading Montreal Canadiens 3-2 on Saturday.
Jeff Skinner scored twice, including the game-winner, sandwiching Joakim Nordstrom’s first goal of the season, while Cam Ward made 36 saves to end Carolina’s recent three-game losing streak.
It was also a night of firsts for players on both teams.
In recalling three players from the Hurricanes’ AHL affiliate in Charlotte, Hurricanes fans got to see 2012 second-round pick Phil Di Giuseppe make his NHL debut.
Though not recording a point, the gritty 22-year old forward got a shot on goal and contributed five hits – he did what was expected of him.
“It was a hell of an experience,” Di Giuseppe said.
“It was one of the best moments of my life and to get a W like that was something special. I tried being physical today and I thought I did that.”
With starter Carey Price still out with a lower-body injury, Montreal backup goalkeeper Mike Condon made his first career start against the Hurricanes and recorded 26 saves in the losing effort.
Before Skinner put the finishing touches on his sixth and seventh goals of the season, the Canadiens’ Daniel Carr opened the game’s scoring with his first career NHL goal and point while playing in his first game.
The wraparound effort beat Ward at 2:44 into the first period, and left many who witnessed Carolina’s horrific 5-1 loss to New Jersey on Thursday a little unsettled with flashbacks to another potential night of misery.
However, Skinner wiped any of those thoughts away 10 minutes later as he impressively finished off a play in front of Condon to tie the score 1-1.
After the puck was centered by Jordan Staal, Skinner managed to toe-drag the puck from the top of the crease away to Condon’s left before roofing it into an entirely wide-open half of the net.
Facing the league’s fourth-best power play, Carolina fended off two man-advantage opportunities from the Habs and both teams remained even after one period of play.
As play continued back and forth in a tight-checking game in which the Hurricanes outmuscled Montreal by a 39-18 margin in terms of hits made, Sven Andrighetto managed to find space in the low slot to slip the puck past Ward with 8:41 to play in the second.
Trailing 2-1, it didn’t take long for Carolina to even it up as a result of a strong forechecking effort from Nordstrom who got some help from linemate Andrej Nestrasil and defenseman Ron Hainsey to tuck a rebound past Condon at the 13:15 mark.
With the scored tied 2-2, the third period provided a variety of theatrics.
Following the opening faceoff, captain Eric Staal was pushed into Condon by Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban as the puck was dribbling under the netminder.
As Staal sprawled on top of Condon, the puck continued to slide ever so slowly across the goal line.
The referee pointed at the net indicating a good goal.
However, the play was challenged by Montreal head coach Michel Therrien and following video review was overruled as goaltender interference, a decision that denied Staal from giving Carolina the lead.
That moment eventually arrived just over 12 minutes later when Skinner batted the puck into the net on the power play as Tom Gilbert sat in the box for having tripped Staal on a previous sequence.
“He was a factor and he was good in the middle, which is probably tellin’ me he wants to play in the middle for a little while,” Peters said of the captain’s play throughout the game.
“That’s probably the message he’s sendin’ to the coach. Let’s see if the coach is smart enough to leave him there.”
“It’s been a grind the past couple of games with losses,” Staal said.
“We played a real good team over there tonight that has a record that they do for a reason. Tonight we showed could compete and play with them and get the right result.”
Carolina finished 1-for-4 with the man-advantage while Montreal went scoreless on all four power plays it was afforded throughout the game.
“All the guys on specialty teams found a way to contribute,” Peters said.
“I like both power play units and the penalty kill was clutch.”
Ward made key saves throughout the game, including one in the third that rattled off his facemask, knocking it off and causing a stoppage in play.
“Sometimes you just gotta make yourself big,” Ward said smiling.
“It was a bit of turnover and a good opportunity for them, but I was fortunate to make the save. It’s a little uncomfortable when your straps come off and you’re playin’ with no lid. I don’t need to be old school or anything like that, so next time I’ll try to keep my helmet on.”
“I loved it,” Peters added about the stop.
“I thought it was a great save.”
Faced with defending the Canadiens’ final power play of the game, a 6-on-4 man-advantage that converted to a 6-on-5 with Condon out his net for just over two minutes, the final outcome favored the Hurricanes.
Finishing its second game as part of three in four days, and ready to conclude a weekend back-to-back set, Carolina now looks to parlay its success into its next game against the Arizona Coyotes on Sunday.
“It’s big, no matter what perspective you put it in,” Peters said of the win over the Habs.
“We needed a win. We didn’t play very well our last time out. We needed to bounce back and we did bounce back – credit to the guys. Now we’ve gotta validate the win we had tonight, tomorrow.”
“It’s nice to bounce back and respond against a pretty good team,” Skinner added.
“It was a pretty good test that we knew comin’ in was gonna be a challenge. It’s nice to get this win. Like any other game, take the positives, move forward, and try and do it tomorrow.”