Skinner, Ward lead Hurricanes to 3-2 win over Rangers

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RALEIGH, N.C. – The Carolina Hurricanes took advantage of the buzz and excitement a sellout home-opening crowd of 18,680 presented, and posted a 3-2 win over the New York Rangers at PNC Arena on Friday.

Jeff Skinner led the Hurricanes with two goals and an assist on the game-winner from Bryan Bickell while goaltender Cam Ward made 28 saves to earn the win.

It was the type of finish that head coach Bill Peters wanted to see to end a recent two-game losing skid.

“It was a good effort,” Bill Peters said.

“I thought we buckled down in the third and had a real good period when it mattered.”

Playing to Skinner’s lead, Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello was the scoring catalyst for the Rangers, netting both goals as goaltender Henrik Lundqvist faced 21 shots in the loss.

Both teams traded possessions during the first 10 minutes of play and established a fast pace which kept Ward and Lundqvist busy.

Ward made significantly more stops throughout the game and thought he needed to up his game following past performances.

“It was important that we put in a strong effort,” the netminder said.

“Personally, I needed to step up. I was real excited to play in the opening night game again. I’m real happy with the reward as a result.”

Both teams benefitted from special teams play as each scored with the man-advantage – the Rangers going 1-for-2 while Carolina finished 1-for-1.

New York took advantage of its first power play of the game as the result of Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk batting the puck over the glass.

What appeared as a goal from Zuccarello was challenged and reviewed, and eventually affirmed to put New York ahead 1-0 at the 11:29 mark.

Skinner tied it up with a wrist shot high to Lundqvist’s blocker side after skating with possession out of the corner away from New York defenseman Kevin Klein.

Noah Hanifin and Victor Rask earned assists on the goal that evened the score 1-1 with 7:26 remaining.

The opening 20 minutes wasn’t without errors as a giveaway from Hurricanes defenseman Klas Dahlbeck gave Zuccarello an opportunity to put New York ahead again, but a sliding pad save by Ward kept the score even with two minutes to play.

Both teams remained tied 1-1.

“It was a great game by Wardo, especially early,” Jordan Staal said.

“I thought he made some huge saves to keep it close.”

Skinner scored his second of the game quickly off a faceoff to Ward’s left to start the second period.

After Rask won the draw, Jaccob Slavin pushed the puck to defensive partner Brett Pesce who cleared the zone before connecting with Skinner to set up the go-ahead goal 33 seconds in.

While protecting the puck from Rangers defenseman Klein, Skinner turned his back, spun back around and placed a backhand shot over Lundqvist’s blocker-side pad to put Carolina ahead 2-1.

Ward continued his consistent play with notable saves on Ranger forwards Mika Zibanejad and Rick Nash.

With Bickell in the box for hooking, New York had an opportunity to even the score at the midpoint of the period.

Special teams featured impressive play at both ends with the Carolina penalty kill successfully defending the New York man-advantage through the sequence.

At even strength, Zuccarello soon snuck behind the defense at the Hurricanes blue line, the recipient of a rink-length stretch pass from Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh, and beat Ward between the pads to even the score with 7:43 to play.

Carolina earned its lone power play when McDonagh was called for tripping Lee Stempniak deep in the Rangers zone.

Skinner wired a slap shot with a second left which grazed Bickell and gave Carolina a 3-2 lead heading into the second intermission.

The entire crowd thought the Carolina forward scored the hat trick and littered the ice with grey and red promotional caps that had been distributed before the game.

However, the goal was credited to Bickell upon further review.

“Of course it was hat night tonight, so you see all the hats come down,” Bickell said.

“I was hopin’ he got the outright hat trick, but I’m sure he’d be happy to get a win.”

Skinner concurred.

“I didn’t actually see it go in, so I knew it kind of snuck in there,” he said.

“We’ll take them though; we’ll take them any way we can get them.”

New York pressed early and often in the third, but Ward continued his steady play to hold onto the Hurricanes’ one-goal advantage.

Having given up leads in previous games, Carolina successfully fended off the Rangers, a Metropolitan Division foe they beat only once in four games last season, and posted their first home win of the year.

“I thought we had a strong third,” Staal pointed out.

“We even created a lot of chances the other way. We did a great job of controlling the puck in the D-zone and controlling the puck the other way so we weren’t playing in our end for a long period of time.”

Boxscore: Carolina 3, New York 2

Notes: Rask’s two assists on the Skinner and Bickell goals extended his season-starting point streak to seven games…The win marked the first Hurricanes home-opening win since the 2010-2011 season (Helsinki, Finland) and the first in Raleigh since the 2008-2009 season…Six Hurricanes played their first regular-season game at PNC Arena – including Bickell, Stempniak, Dahlbeck, Teravainen, Viktor Stalberg, and Sebastian Aho.